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In the United States, skin cancers are diagnosed annually more than other cancers combined. Most are caused by over-exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays, either by way of the sun or through man-made sources, such as tanning beds. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, over 5 million cases of basal and squamous cell skin cancers are documented each year, and over 76,000 cases of melanoma - the deadliest form of skin cancer - are estimated to occur in 2016.
However, being aware of your skin and knowing the warning signs of melanoma to watch out for can go a long way toward increasing the likelihood of positive outcomes from treatment.
What Are the Warning Signs?
While many moles are harmless, you can conduct a simple self-examination of new moles or growths against a simple “A-B-C-D-E” checklist. If you have spot on your skin and are able to answer “Yes,” to any of the questions below, you should consult with a dermatologist and have a biopsy performed to see if the spot is, in fact melanoma.
Does one half of the mole not match the other?
Are the edges or borders blurred, irregular or notched?
Is the color not uniform across the growth? Does it include shades of brown or black, or patches of blue, pink, red or white?
Is the mole larger than 6mm - about the size of a pencil eraser?
Over time, does the growth change in color, shape or size?
That said, not all melanomas meet these criteria. So if you notice any changes in your skin - for example, a new growth that does not appear to match the others, or a change in a mole already present - contact an experienced dermatologist. Other symptoms of melanoma to be aware of include pigmentation spreading beyond the border of a growth, changes in surface texture or sensation, or sores that do not heal.
Prevention of Skin Cancers
Your skin is a vital organ that not only protects you from germs, but also your internal organs from injury. So remember, while it is important to be proactive about detection of melanoma or other skin cancers, you also should be proactive about preventing sun damage to your skin that increases the risk of skin cancer.
This is especially true in the summer months, where you may be spending more time outside having fun with friends and family. For example, apply and frequently reapply sunscreen, particularly if your skin burns easily. Also avoid being outdoors midday and in the early afternoon hours for long periods of time without some sort of protection, or the use of tanning beds.