May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month and a great time for a reminder about checking your skin and preventing sun damage. The longer days and warmer weather provide a great climate for exercising outdoors. In my article on protecting your skin from environmental damage, I detailed the varying conditions you may encounter and how to combat them, including the use of sunscreen and protective clothing. In this article, I want to stress the importance of checking your skin for damage that may be or become skin cancer.
Protection from the sun prevents damage to the cells of the epidermis. If skin is left unprotected, over time this sun damage can lead to the production of lines, wrinkles, precancerous lesions and actual skin cancers.
If you are familiar with your skin and its markings - moles, blemishes, discolorations - you are better equipped to recognize changes and possible Melanomas. Full body skin examinations - screening skin for benign or cancerous lesions - are essential for optimum health maintenance and should be done at least annually. Half of melanomas are first identified by patients themselves. An important part of prevention is mole tracking with the ABCDE danger signs: A=asymmetry, B=irregular border, C=irregular color, D=increase in diameter, E=evolution or changes in the mole. A Body Mole Map is available through the American Academy of Dermatology website.
Check your skin several times a year if you have multiple risk factors such as excessive exposure to the sun, tanning bed use, or a history of precancerous skin lesions, cancer or frequent sun burns.
Only about one third of the population performs self-exams for the signs of skin cancer and a significant number of those people are unable to see or recognize suspicious lesions on their own. A visit to your Dermatologist is important for a thorough evaluation of any areas of concern.
Make sure to check all areas of your skin, even the areas that are not often exposed to the sun. Use a mirror to help you see the areas that are out of reach. If you discover that your moles have changed, make an appointment with your Dermatologist for an evaluation.
What if it is Skin Cancer?
The number of non-Melanoma skin cancers in the United States is still on the rise. Sun damage accumulates over your life meaning that a small dose every day, every week or even every summer will make the damage that much worse later in life.
If you are diagnosed with basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers, Mohs Micrographic Surgery is the most effective method for treatment. With the highest success rate of all skin cancer treatments, Mohs allows surgeons to identify and remove tumors one layer at a time while preserving as much healthy tissue as possible.
>> Note: Dr. Richard Asarch, M.D. studied with Dr. Mohs and has successfully completed over 30,000 procedures utilizing this method for the treatment of skin cancers.
Mohs Surgery is recommended for skin cancer removal for all the following situations:
- Anatomic Areas where preservation of healthy tissue is critical for cosmetic or functional purposes (such as eyelids, nose, face, fingers & genital area)
- Recurrent Tumors
- Aggressive Tumors
- Cancers with Indistinct Margins.
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Header image credit: Samantha Decker, http://www.flickr.com/photos/sammers05/4409699162/sizes/z/in/photostream/