Many people think skin cancer prevention is just about sun protection. But secondary prevention, also known as early detection, is also vital: the sooner a suspected skin cancer is identified and diagnosed, the more easily and successfully it can be treated. What’s more, by discovering a skin lesion while it is still precancerous, you can stop it from ever becoming a cancer.
While an annual total-body skin exam by a physician is key to early detection, monthly head-to-toe skin self-examination is also critical. In fact, studies show that patients find the majority of lesions that prove to be skin cancers. Self-exams enable you to spot suspicious lesions, and by bringing them promptly to the attention of your doctor, you might just save your own life. When patients with potentially deadly skin cancers are diagnosed and treated at an early stage, almost all make a full recovery. Unfortunately, among patients diagnosed with advanced disease, just 15 percent survive longer than 5 years.
You can take charge of your skin’s health now by learning how to perform a self-exam. For a fast, effective skin check:
Examine your skin carefully: A thorough, full-body self-exam should not take long, but you should be methodical. By following The Skin Cancer Foundation’s simple guidelines, you won’t neglect easily overlooked areas like the scalp, palms, soles of the feet, fingers, or toes. Skin cancers on these areas can be particularly dangerous, and they should be diagnosed and treated as quickly as possible.
Know what to look for: Clearly, a self-exam is a lot more useful if you have an idea what suspicious lesions look like. Familiarize yourself with illustrations of the most common skin cancers and precancers, including basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, melanoma, and actinic keratosis. New or changing moles, spots, sores, lesions, or growths can be a cause for concern; learn more about them.
Track changes: While some skin cancer warning signs appear suddenly, slow-growing or gradually evolving lesions are also cause for concern. If the lesion increases in size or changes color and doesn’t go away in a short period of time, seek medical attention in a timely fashion.
In cold weather, the phrase “taking care of your skin” to most people might mean wearing warm clothes and using moisturizer. But even when you bundle up, taking care of your skin also means using sun protection for whatever skin is exposed, and checking your skin for changes on a regular basis.
We wish you a happy, and safe, holiday season and a healthy new year.
Published on December 19, 2012