By Anna C. Christensen, UA Cancer Center
TUCSON, Ariz. – Skin cancer, the most common type of cancer in the world, is caused mainly by exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. In Arizona, skin cancer awareness programs ramp up with the escalating temperatures from spring to summer. By the time the mid-summer monsoons hit, however, these messages start to fall off our radar. When the weather once again is hospitable as fall rolls around, many of us are back to enjoying the outdoors without adequate sun protection. Nevertheless, reducing our risk of skin cancer is a year-round activity.
Lisa Quale, health educator at the University of Arizona Cancer Center Skin Cancer Institute, works with the community to help people learn the best ways to enjoy the sun’s benefits while protecting themselves from cancer-causing UV radiation. Each Tuesday in August, the UA Cancer Center is providing “Bear Down. Beat Cancer. Top 5 Strategies for Reducing Skin Cancer Risk.” Employing these strategies in combination will provide the best protection.
Top Five Strategy No. 4: Perform Regular Self-Exams
You’ve spent years avoiding sun, covering up your skin and slathering yourself with sunscreen. That doesn’t mean you’re invulnerable to skin cancer.
Anybody can get skin cancer, says Quale, regardless of their perceived risk factors, such as skin color or sun exposure. “Everybody needs to check their skin and see a dermatologist if they find something unusual.”
Keeping track of the spots on your skin can help you recognize when new ones appear or old ones change in appearance. Take action when you notice something out of the ordinary. In its early stages, skin cancer usually is very treatable.
There are three main types of skin cancer. Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and basal cell carcinoma (BCC), the most common types, are less likely to spread to other places in the body. Melanoma is rare but more likely to blaze an aggressive path from its site of origin to other parts of the body.
SCC might look like:
- A scaly red patch with irregular borders that sometimes crusts or bleeds
- An elevated growth with a central indentation that occasionally bleeds
- An open, wartlike sore with a raised border and crusted surface over an elevated bumpy base
BCC might look like:
- A reddish patch or irritated area that might crust, itch or hurt
- A shiny bump or nodule that is pearly or translucent
- A pink growth with a slightly elevated, rolled border and a crusted indentation in the center; tiny blood vessels may develop on the surface
- A scarlike area that is white, yellow or waxy, and can have a poorly defined border
- An open sore that bleeds, oozes or crusts, and remains open for a few weeks, heals and then returns
To catch melanoma early, note the ABCDEs:
- Asymmetry: a mole with an uneven appearance
- Border irregularity: a mole’s or spot’s edges are ragged, notched, irregular or blurred
- Color: a mole or spot has more than one color throughout
- Diameter: a mole is larger than the size of a pencil eraser, or about a quarter inch
- Evolving: a mole or spot changes in size, shape, color or sensation, or starts to bleed
The UA Skin Cancer Institute recommends regular self-exams in which you examine your body from head to toe. The information you gather will help you tell a dermatologist what’s new, what’s changing and what concerns you.
“Dermatologists are very good at spotting unusual things,” says Quale, “but they don’t necessarily know what you’ve had for a long time. If you want the most out of a visit with a dermatologist you have to be able to give them some history, because you’ve got the brain attached to the skin.”
Your skin health is important regardless of the season. Stay tuned throughout August for more weekly strategies to reduce your skin cancer risk every day of the year. Check out our previous tips here. To request an appointment with a dermatologist, please call the UA Cancer Center at 520-694-2873. You can find more information on the UA Cancer Center’s website.