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Melanoma and Skin Cancer: Tips on Safety and Prevention

Dr. Mario Trucillo

Last updated: November 22, 2016 3:17 pm

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The Skin Cancer Foundation has noted that May is skin cancer awareness month and with summer approaching, people will normally be spending more time outdoors. As usual, it is part of our mission at Recall Center to keep you informed of your risks and tips to keep you safe as you enjoy your time outdoors this summer.

 

What is Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States and is a disease in which skin cells in the body grow out of control. 1 There are three common types of skin cancer. The most prevalent types of skin cancer are basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas. These types of skin cancers are highly curable and cause the least amount of deaths. Melanoma is the third most common skin cancer and, although less common than the other two, accounts for the most deaths and can spread to other organs if left undetected and untreated. The majority of these three types of skin cancer are caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light.

According to statistics from the CDC 2, in 2010 melanomas of the skin represented 7 percent of the skin cancers that were tracked by the central cancer registries. There were 61,061 people in the United States diagnosed with melanomas of the skin, the majority of which were men. Melanomas of the skin accounted for 9,154 deaths.

 

Risk Factors for Developing Skin Cancer

Inevitably anyone can get skin cancer, however there are some people that have higher risk factors. Things like spending a lot of time in the sun (even if it was at an early age), using tanning beds often, or living in areas of intense sunlight are among them.

Other factors that may put someone at a higher risk are: 3

  • People who have a fair skin, moles, or frequent sunburns.
  • People who have a family history of skin cancer.
  • A medical history of things including: previous skin cancer, organ transplants, bad burns, or any disease that weakens the immune system.
  • Frequent exposure to some chemicals like industrial tar, arsenic, or coal.
  • Even tobacco use can increase the risk of a type of skin cancer of the mouth and throat.

 

Recognizing the Signs

If you are someone who is concerned with a high risk of developing skin cancer or are concerned for your own well-being, it’s important to know how to recognize skin cancer and do regular self-examinations. The National Cancer Institute gives us these tips on the proper way to do a self-examination. 4

First and foremost, the best time to do the exam is after showering or bathing. This will ensure that you are clean of any debris. Do the exam in a well-lit area, preferably with a full-length mirror and a hand-held mirror so that you are thorough and get the most coverage. Begin by learning where birthmarks, moles and other marks are and how they normally look and feel (e.g. size, shape, color). Know your body.

Then, check for anything new:

  • A new mole (that looks different from your other moles).
  • A new red or darker color flaky patch that may be a little raised.
  • A new flesh-colored firm bump.
  • A change in the size, shape, color, or feel of a mole.
  • A sore that doesn’t heal.

 

Be sure to check yourself from head to toe; be thorough. Look at your face, neck, ears, and scalp. Move your hair so that you can get a clear view. Don’t be afraid to ask for help in this case. It may be difficult to get a complete look on your own.

Get an entire view of your body in the mirror: Back, front, raise your arms and check your left and right sides. Check your arms thoroughly. Look from top to bottom including your palms and fingernails. Check your legs from top to bottom. Take a seat and check the soles of your feet and your toenails. Don’t forget to check your genital area and buttocks for changes as well.

Although a change in skin is the most common cause of skin cancer, a simple way to remember the signs of melanoma are to remember the A-B-C-D-Es of melanoma. 5

  • “A” stands for asymmetrical. Does the mole or spot have an irregular shape with two parts that look very different?
  • “B” stands for border. Is the border irregular or jagged?
  • “C” is for color. Is the color uneven?
  • “D” is for diameter. Is the mole or spot larger than the size of a pea?
  • “E” is for evolving. Has the mole or spot changed during the past few weeks or months?

 

Further Investigation

Checking your skin regularly, will give you a good idea about the way your skin normally looks; this will enable you to identify any changes. It may be helpful to record the dates so you can remember when you completed these exams. And most importantly, if you find anything unusual, see your doctor. If your doctor happens to find that further investigation is required, skin cancer is diagnosed by performing a biopsy. Your doctor will take a sample of the skin to be put under a microscope and examined by a dermatologist or other professional qualified to make a proper diagnosis.

 

Tips on Prevention

Although some risks are unavoidable, the Skin Cancer Foundation has given us some guidelines and tips 6 to share with friends and family to avoid developing skin cancer.

  • Seek the shade, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Do not burn.
  • Avoid tanning and UV tanning booths.
  • Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
  • Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
  • Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
  • Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens should be used on babies over the age of six months.
  • Examine your skin head-to-toe every month.
  • See your physician every year for a professional skin exam.

Take Home Notes

As always it’s important to stay informed. Of course taking preventive measures like using the right sunscreen and keeping out of the sun will be key, but for various reasons that may not always be feasible or may not be the only thing that puts you at risk. Therefore, early detection will important to avoiding risks of major consequences like further spreading of the disease. Regular self-checks, knowing and recognizing the signs will always be important.

When all is said and done, we at Recall Center hope that you stay safe and enjoy your summer. For this and more information please visit The Skin Cancer foundation.

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Skin Cancer Statistics. Page last updated: October 23, 2013. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/statistics/index.htm. Accessed on May 17,2014. 

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What is skin cancer?. Page last updated: February 19, 2014. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/what-is-skin-cancer.htm. Accessed on May 17,2014. 

  3. American Academy of Dermatology. “Skin cancer: Who gets and causes”. Copyright 2014. Available at: https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/skin-cancer/basal-cell-carcinoma. Accessed on: May 15,2014. 

  4. National Cancer Institute: What you need to know about melanoma and other skin cancers. “How to check your skin”. Posted: January 11, 2011. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/publications/patient-education/skin.pdf. Accessed: May 16, 2014. 

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What Are the Symptoms?. Page last updated: December 11, 2013. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/symptoms.htm. Accessed on May 17,2014. 

  6. Skin Cancer Foundation. Prevention Guidelines. Copyright 2014. Available at: http://www.skincancer.org/prevention. Accessed on: May 16, 2014.