Skin cancer is both the most common type of cancer in the US and it can be the most deadly if not caught in time. The good news is that melanoma usually develops slowly and often gives plenty of warning signs before it becomes serious. When caught early, skin cancer is often able to be addressed by a simply biopsy. Often, the site of the skin cancer is removed in a quick in-office procedure. However, it’s important not only to do your own self-mole checks but also see a dermatologist regularly.
Most Americans don’t have a dermatologist unless they see this professional for aesthetic issues such as acne. However, you should see a dermatologist annually just like you see a GP for a checkup. Spotting skin cancer takes practice, and only a trained eye can truly do a comprehensive check. Still, think of self-mole checks like those monthly self-breast exams: You know your body best, and you’re the best person to tell if something’s amiss.
Even if you never used sunscreen as a kid or you’ve already had cancerous moles removed, it’s never too late to start a sunscreen regimen. Not only does SPF applied every two hours whenever you’re outside prevent sunburn and blisters, it also prevents cancers and wards off fine lines and wrinkles. However, sunscreen isn’t just for the outdoors; if you’re indoors but near a window, those harmful UV rays are still at work.
Not all skin cancer starts as a changing mole, but many do. However, it’s still important to know that skin cancer can and does occur without a mole ever serving as a red flag; this is one of the many reasons it’s crucial to see a dermatologist regularly. Otherwise, memorize the ABCDs of moles: asymmetry, border irregularity, color and diameter.
What to watch
Not all moles with different colors, strange diameters or that aren’t totally symmetrical are cancerous; in fact in most cases they aren’t. Sometimes they are, and if you notice a mole changing or just don’t feel comfortable with one in particular, there’s no harm in getting it checked. A reputable dermatologist will listen to your concerns and a tiny biopsy is all it takes to see if the mole is cancerous. If it’s not, you’re simply left with a mole removal procedure that’s covered by your insurance.
Unfortunately, there are many areas of your body (such as your back) where you can’t do self-checks and this is where a quid pro quo agreement can come into play. If you have a significant other, you can check each other’s hard to see spots. Otherwise, a friend or family member can be wrangled in as an aid. Staying on top of worrisome moles is your best defense against one of the fastest growing cancers in the country.