PHILADELPHIA (May 8, 2017) — May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month. When outdoors this season, remember to protect your skin from the sun’s damaging rays. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), skin cancer is by far the most common type of cancer in the U.S. Fox Chase Cancer Center seeks to educate individuals on the early signs of skin cancer and steps you can take to prevent the disease.
There are three main types of skin cancer. Basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers are most often found in areas exposed to the sun, such as the head, neck and arms. These types of cancer can also occur elsewhere and are very common and usually very treatable. Melanoma is less common than some other skin cancers but more likely to grow and spread. According to the ACS, melanoma accounts for approximately one percent of skin cancers but causes a large majority of skin cancer deaths. Over the last 30 years, the rates of melanoma have been increasing.
“Early detection is key. When detected early, most skin cancers may be effectively treated and are often curable,” said surgical oncologist Jeffrey M. Farma, MD, FACS, Fox Chase Cancer Center. “Individuals play an important role in early detection. By being familiar with your own skin markings, like moles, freckles and blemishes, you’re likely to notice any changes. I recommend having your skin checked yearly by a physician or dermatologist, in addition to checking your own skin by using a mirror every month for any signs of skin cancer.”
The ABCDE Rule of Skin Cancer
A change in the skin is the most common sign for skin cancer. The ABCDE rule of skin cancer is an easy tool to help differentiate between a problem growth and simple blemish. While not meant to be a tool for diagnosis, it can help identify potential malignancies.
- A for Asymmetry - Melanoma lesions are often irregular, or not symmetrical, in shape. Benign moles are usually symmetrical.
- B for Border - Non-cancerous moles usually have smooth, even borders. Melanoma lesions usually have irregular borders that are difficult to define.
- C for Color - A mole that has more than one color (blue, black, brown, tan, etc.) or the uneven distribution of color can sometimes be a warning sign of melanoma. Benign moles are usually a single shade of brown or tan.
- D for Diameter - Melanoma lesions are often greater than 6 millimeters in diameter (approximately the size of a pencil eraser).
- E for Evolution - The evolution of your moles is a key factor. Knowing what is normal for you could save your life. “If a mole or marking has gone through recent changes in color and/or size, bring it to the attention of your doctor immediately so he or she can determine the cause,” said Dr. Farma. “Remember that skin cancer affects people of all skin tones, no matter what their complexion.”
Skin Cancer Prevention
The most preventable cause of skin cancer is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light: however, it isn’t necessary to totally avoid the sun. Below are steps you can take to limit your exposure.
- Seek shade, especially when the sun is strongest, between 10 am and 4 pm. The shadow test can help determine the strength of the sun’s rays: if your shadow is shorter than you, then rays are strongest.
- Cover up with clothing as much as possible. If light can shine through your clothing, then UV rays can penetrate as well. In general, dark colors provide better protection than light ones. Remember to wear UV-blocking sunglasses for eye protection and a wide-brimmed hat to protect your scalp, face and ears.
- Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher on unprotected skin, and be aware that sunscreen is just a filter – it does not block all UV rays. Reapply every two hours and after swimming, toweling dry or sweating. Sunscreen is important even on hazy or overcast days. Don’t forget your lips – apply lip balm with sunscreen.
- Avoid tanning beds, booths, and sunlamps. Studies have shown that exposure to UV radiation damages your skin, whether the exposure comes from tanning beds or natural sunlight. There is no such thing as safe tanning.
For more information on skin cancer and the Fox Chase Cancer Center Melanoma Program, please call 1-888-FOX CHASE or visit FoxChase.org.