You’re scrolling through your Facebook feed on a Saturday morning when you stumble across a post from one of your friends:
As you reach forward to type your “get well” message to John, a mole on your forearm comes into view. While you’ve had the mole since you were a teenager, you instantly question whether it could be skin cancer. After all, you and John grew up together; you spent your summers on the beach, often competing to see who had the “best color.” If he has skin cancer, you are at risk too, right?
Before you panic, ask yourself the following questions about the mole you just became reacquainted with:
- If you draw a line down the center of your worrisome spot, are the two halves different? Are they asymmetrical?
- Are the borders of your spot uneven or jagged?
- Does the mole have multiple colors in it?
- Is your mole larger than a pencil eraser?
- Has the mole changed over time? You might find that it has gotten larger or feels a bit more raised, or it’s just itchy in a way you never noticed before.
- Does the mole look different from the others on your body?
- Have you gone more than a year without a visit to your dermatologist?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, make an appointment with your dermatologist and be sure to share your concerns. And even if you answered, “I don’t know” to one, go ahead and make the call. While a “yes” or an “I’m not so sure” response in no way guarantees that you have skin cancer, it means there may be cause for concern.
Another question that doesn’t speak to the technical warning signs but is nevertheless important is, “What is your gut telling you?” We often hear from skin cancer patients who didn’t exhibit the classic ABCDE signs of melanoma, but they trusted their instincts that something wasn’t quite right and made an appointment with a dermatologist. You know your body best, and when it comes to your health, you should be your own advocate. When it doubt, always check it out.
It’s important to remember that just because your friend John has had skin cancer, it doesn’t mean that you’ll receive the same diagnosis. But his post is a valuable reminder: Every person, regardless of age, gender or background, is at risk for the world’s most common cancer. Daily sun protection, coupled with annual visits to your dermatologist for a complete skin exam, are the best ways to prevent it. (Along with interim visits if your gut tells you something is not right.) So heed John’s advice and lather on that sunscreen, but don’t stop there. Always wear UV-protective clothing, a wide-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses, and seek the shade.