Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers, each year in the U.S. over 5.4 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are treated in more than 3.3 million people. It is also the easiest to cure, if diagnosed and treated early. When allowed to progress, however, skin cancer can result in disfigurement and even death.
How to check your skin
- Make sure you check your entire body as skin cancers can sometimes occur in parts of the body not exposed to the sun, for example soles of the feet, between fingers and toes and under nails.
- Undress completely and make sure you have good light.
- Use a mirror to check hard to see spots, like your back and scalp, or get a family member, partner or friend to check it for you.
What to look for
There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Because each has many different appearances, it is important to know the early warning signs. Look especially for change of any kind. Do not ignore a suspicious spot simply because it does not hurt. Skin cancers may be painless, but dangerous all the same. If you notice one or more of the warning signs, see a doctor right away, preferably one who specializes in diseases of the skin.
The Warning Sign
- A skin growth that increases in size and appears pearly, translucent, tan, brown, black, or multicolored
- A mole, birthmark, beauty mark, or any brown spot that:
- changes color
- increases in size or thickness
- changes in texture
- is irregular in outline
- is bigger than 6mm or 1/4″, the size of a pencil eraser
- appears after age 21
- A spot or sore that continues to itch, hurt, crust, scab, erode, or bleed
- An open sore that does not heal within three weeks.
Also Read: Things you need to know about breast cancer
Mole or skin cancer?
Almost all of us have moles. Moles are not normally present at birth, but appear in childhood and early teenage years. By the age of 15, Australian children have an average of more than 50 moles. Normal moles usually look alike. See your doctor if a mole looks different or if a new mole appears after the age of 25. The more moles a person has, the higher the risk of melanoma.
- Harmless coloured spots that range from 1mm to 10mm.
- Uniform in shape and even coloured. May be raised.
- The more moles or freckles you have the higher your risk of skin cancer.
- May have uneven borders and multiple colours like brown and black.
- Observe moles carefully for any sign of change.
Although you may notice one or more skin changes, it does not necessarily mean that you have skin cancer, however it is important that you visit your GP to have them investigated further. Your GP can discuss your skin cancer risk and advise you on your need for medical checks or self-examination. It can be difficult to know whether something on your skin is a harmless mole or normal sun damage, or a sign of cancer. When in doubt, speak to your GP.
Also Read: 8 Cancer-Fighting Superfoods
About 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. Since its inception in 1979, The Skin Cancer Foundation has always recommended using a sunscreen with an SPF 15 or higher as one important part of a complete sun protection regimen. Sunscreen alone is not enough, however. Read our full list of skin cancer prevention tips.
- Seek the shade, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM.
- Do not burn.
- Avoid tanning and UV tanning booths.
- Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
- Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day.
For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
- Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside.
Reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
- Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens should be used on babies over the age of six months.
- Examine your skin head-to-toe every month.
- See your physician every year for a professional skin exam.