Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S., with 1 million cases diagnosed annually. And melanoma is the second most common cancer among women age 25 to 29. Here is information and resources to help safeguard your skin.
What puts you at risk
Your family: If an immediate relative (mom, dad, brother or sister) develops melanoma, you have a 50 percent chance of getting it, too. Scientists recently identified a specific gene mutation that appears to drive the development of about half of all melanomas.
You’re moley: One out of every 80 marks may be abnormal.
Your coloring: The less melanin you have, the more likely you’ll burn or develop questionable moles.
Spot check: The ABCs of skin cancer
See a mole that’s changed color or shape? Go to a doctor, pronto! When people notice an anomaly, they are two times more likely to have melanoma, according to data compiled from five American Academy of Dermatology skin cancer screening programs. Watch for these warning signs.
- A is for asymmetry
- B is for border
- C is for color
- D is for diameter
- E is for evolving
What it means:
A) Healthy moles are typically symmetrical, so both sides of a growth should match if you visualize a line through the middle in any direction. Use a full-length mirror plus a handheld one to examine out-of-sight areas such as your back and rear.
B) Uniformity suggests cells are healthy. If the rim is irregular or indistinct, get a dermatologist to check it, says Darrell S. Rigel, M.D., clinical professor of dermatology at New York University Medical Center in NYC and the cocreator of this A-through-E system.
C) It’s not about how dark a mole is. (Even almost-black marks can be benign.) But various shades of brown, tan or black in one spot could mean that the cells are not functioning properly. Also, be suspicious of unusual hues such as red, white or blue.
D) The rule of thumb is to be wary of moles larger than six millimeters across (the size of a pencil eraser). Recent evidence, however, indicates that even those that are minuscule can be malignant — and possibly life-threatening.
E) You are also an important surveillance system. “If a growth’s characteristics have recently changed, then run, don’t walk, to your dermatologist,” says Kenneth Mark, M.D., assistant clinical professor of dermatology at New York University in NYC.
Surf your way to safe, healthy skin
These online programs can help you net the latest information on melanoma.
- Skin Cancer Takes Friends: Olay and the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery join forces to raise awareness of the importance of annual skin cancer screenings. Find a derm who offers free exams at SkinCancerTakesFriends.com.
- Screen the One You Love: The American Academy of Dermatology advocates using special occasions as a prompt to tell family and friends to get skin checks. For example, on Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, encourage those close to you to sign up for a free exam at MelanomaMonday.org.
- Glow in the Dark Campaign: Take the anti-tanning pledge at Jergens.com, then invite friends to do the same. The site links to The Skin Cancer Foundation, so you can read up on the latest skin-protecting facts and statistics.
- Road to Healthy Skin Tour: Aveeno, Rite Aid and The Skin Cancer Foundation are setting up shop in a 38-foot RV and visiting 80 locations to offer free full-body scans. Check out the schedule at SkinCancer.org.
News from the skin front
Dermatologists reveal the research and developments that may help rescue you from skin cancer.
Q: What are the latest advances for detecting skin cancer?
A: Awaiting FDA approval: MelaFind, a handheld device that captures an image up to 2.5 millimeters below the skin’s surface by emitting 10 different wavelengths of light. The images are put through a database to determine if a biopsy is required. In a MelaFind-sponsored study, the technology detected 125 out of 127 melanomas. And MoleSafe (MoleSafe.com) is a chain of clinics where people can have full-body photos taken and analyzed by a dermatologist.
Q: Are there noninvasive treatments?
A: Surgery is the best option for melanoma. Cryosurgery (freezing), acids and chemotherapy lotion can quash some basal and squamous cell carcinomas and actinic keratosis (precancer) — no knife involved. To treat large areas with precancers or carcinomas, experts recommend Aldara, a topical wart remover. “It stimulates the immune system to destroy the potential cancer,” says Ellen Marmur, M.D., chief of dermatologic surgery at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in NYC.
Q: Can cosmetic procedures treat certain skin cancers?
A: Sitting in front of a light source that creates colored light (known as photodynamic therapy) is often used to fight breakouts and increase collagen production. Some doctors combine it with Levulan, a light-sensitive solution, to kill superficial basal cell carcinomas, too. “The light heats up the Levulan and causes a phototoxic reaction that breaks down unhealthy cells,” Dr. Marmur explains. Experts suggest two to four sessions per year.
Q: Does having naturally dark skin reduce your risk of having skin cancer?
A: Olive and brown skin tones contain more melanin (which gives skin its pigment) and therefore have an inherent sun shield. So if that’s you, you’re less likely to develop basal and squamous cell carcinoma — skin cancers highly related to UV damage. (Docs say incidences are on the rise, however.) You’re also still susceptible to melanoma (often on hands, feet and under nails) because genetics, not sunburns, is the primary cause of the disease. So cover up in the sun.
For more tips like these, please visit Self.com.