To Your Health: Screen yourself regularly for skin cancer lesions
By Dr. Adam I. Riker July 17, 2013 12:12PM
Dr. Adam I. Riker
Updated: August 18, 2013 6:11AM
The main reason people get skin cancer, especially melanoma, is too much sun.
Of course, it’s a bit more complicated than that.
We need to consider skin type (pale, freckles, fair skin), the number of moles on your body (more than 50 being a risk factor) and even the color of your eyes and hair. These all contribute to your chances of developing a melanoma in the future.
Except for the spray-on tan, there is no such thing as a safe tan including tanning beds.
There is an abundance of proof indicating that using tanning beds causes all types of skin cancers, especially melanoma. There is so much evidence that the World Health Organization has declared that UV-rays in any form (from the sun and from tanning beds) is a group I carcinogen, known to cause cancer in humans.
UV irradiation (UV-A, B and C) is in the same category as other known carcinogens, such as tobacco smoke, asbestos and even plutonium. There are at least 20 states with laws in place that require parental consent or prevent teens from using a tanning bed. If you are a parent of teens, do not allow them ever to use tanning salons as this greatly increases their chances of getting a melanoma.
Perform skin exams
I tell all of my patients to perform full body naked skin exams at home once a month.
In particular, your spouse or significant other should pay special attention to each other’s back and the head and neck area (especially in the scalp area), as well as any other area difficult to see. Everyone should receive a full body naked skin exam by their primary practitioner or dermatologist at least once a year.
These ABC’s are a simple but effective skin self-examination tool. If you see any of these things, make an appointment for further evaluation:
Asymmetry — An imaginary line down the middle of the skin lesion shows a difference in appearance between the two sides.
Border irregularity — If the outer edges of the skin lesion are jagged and/or irregular
Color Change — Most melanomas contain a dark black pigment called melanin. Look to see if a lesion has changed color in any way, even a subtle change.
Diameter increase — The usual size that may start to raise concern is 6 mm or greater in diameter. This is the diameter of a pencil eraser. If a lesion began as a small spot and several months later is clearly larger, make a doctor’s appointment.
Elevation or Evolution — If you put your finger across the lesion and it feels raised and irregular, get it checked by a doctor.
Types of cancer
There are three major types of skin cancer: basal cell, squamous cell and melanoma.
Basal cell and squamous cell skin cancer is 100 times more common than melanoma, but melanoma is the most dangerous. It accounts for 6 out of 7 skin cancer-related deaths in the United States.
Melanoma is highly curable if recognized early in its course and effectively managed with surgical removal.
No matter how much you may try, you cannot hide from the sun. We are all constantly exposed to the sun, even on cloudy days.
Use common sense, with moderation being the key. During the summer especially, wear sunblock, SPF 15 or greater. Bring a beach umbrella and stay out of the direct sun during peak hours of 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Most importantly, protect your children with sunblock, hats, sunglasses, long-sleeve shirts and cover the feet at all times while at the beach.
The mainstay of treatment for melanoma remains surgical removal of most skin cancers. For melanoma, we may often look at the lymph nodes to see if they are also involved with melanoma.
Once melanoma has spread beyond the lymph nodes to other parts of the body (stage 4, metastatic), it is very difficult to treat.
Despite tremendous research efforts and new drugs for stage 4 patients, most patients will unfortunately still die as a result of their melanoma.
The simple fact is melanoma is the most rapidly increasing cancer in the U.S. in women between the ages of 20 and 40.
Please talk with your doctor about melanoma and skin cancer.
Dr. Riker is a surgical oncologist who specializes in the management of melanoma, breast cancer and sarcoma.
He is the medical director of the Cancer Institute and Melanoma/Sarcoma Program and a senior surgeon of the Breast Cancer Program at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn.