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You hear it every summer: Make sure you’re protecting your skin from dangerous sun exposure to prevent damage that could lead to cancer. Just because wintertime is approaching does not mean your risk for skin cancer has decreased. Skin safety is a hot topic in the summer, but Dr. Heather Riggs, an oncologist at the Kettering Health Cancer Center, sees melanoma cases year-round.
“It’s unclear how long it takes a mole to go from a benign lesion to actual cancer or melanoma,” says Dr. Riggs. “It usually happens with sun exposure from childhood.”
Knowing risk factors
While severe sunburns obtained from childhood are common risk factors for melanoma, certain people who are born with many atypical moles are also at risk, especially if they have had family members that have suffered from melanoma as well.
Other risk factors include being a fair-skinned, blonde, or redheaded person with blue or green eyes. And of course, the use of tanning beds and other forms of UV exposure creates a larger risk for melanoma.
Knowing your risk factors is important, but it’s also important to know how to take preventative measures and lower that risk. When you’re outdoors, make sure to use sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or greater and wear UV-blocking clothing. If you’re after skin with a warm summer glow, Dr. Riggs suggests getting a spray tan and to avoid using tanning beds at all costs.
Changes you can see
Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer because it can spread to other organs in the body. Early detection is key to avoiding the need for surgery to treat cancer. The best way to ensure that any abnormalities are detected is to perform regular skin self-checks.
“One of the neat things about melanoma is that you can see it,” Dr. Riggs says. “So many types of cancers are internal, and you don’t feel anything until it has spread. Many times, melanoma is pretty obvious if you pay attention to your skin.”
Dr. Riggs suggests using the “ABCDE” method to check your moles for abnormalities. Remember to monitor for these traits all year round, not just during the summertime. See your doctor if any of these characteristics describe moles on your skin.
Asymmetry: The mole is not a circle or oval, but rather, takes an unequal shape.
Border irregularities: The edges are uneven.
Color variation: The mole contains multiple colors, especially blue or white.
Diameter: The mole is larger than 6 mm in diameter.
Evolution: An existing mole changes in size, shape, or color, or a new mole develops.
Some people may hesitate to go to the doctor for skin changes or may think nothing of a new mole or lesion. However, Dr. Riggs urges you to visit your doctor if you suspect your skin is behaving abnormally.
“It’s never wrong to have it checked out,” Dr. Riggs says, “Your doctor would rather be safe than sorry. Early detection is still the most important thing.”