The Exchange

Commentary and Observations from
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Encouraging Self-Exams for Early Detection of Skin Cancer

Encouraging Self-Exams for Early Detection of Skin Cancer

With the beginning of warmer weather and more time outdoors, it is the perfect time to begin reminding patients about the importance of sun protection and skin cancer screening. In fact, May was Skin Cancer Awareness Month, with the first Monday commonly referred to as "Melanoma Monday." Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, but it is also one of the most preventable. By the age of 70, it is estimated that 25% of Americans will develop skin cancer. However, when detected early, 99% of all skin cancers are curable, and the 5-year survival rate for melanoma is 99%. An early detection strategy is to see a dermatology healthcare professional once a year for a full body skin exam.

Certain individuals are at a greater risk of developing skin cancer and should not only be monitored closely, but also educated on the signs to look for on their skin. Patients considered high risk include those with a history of indoor tanning bed use, multiple sunburns or a blistering sunburn as a child, treatment with immunosuppressive medications, careers that require daily outdoor sun exposure, personal or family history of skin cancer, and atypical moles. Although people with fair skin tend to burn easier, it is important to remember that people of all ethnic backgrounds can still get skin cancer.

The basic signs for patients to look for include a growth that increases in size; a spot that continues to crust and bleed; an open sore that does not heal within 3 weeks; or a mole that changes in size, thickness, color, or texture. Patient education on these signs, as well as on the ABCDEs of melanoma (below) and how to perform a skin self-exam, could be key to early detection and an increase in survival rates.

ABCDEs of Melanoma

Assymetry: one half of the spot is notably different from the other half

Border: irregular, scalloped, or poorly defined

Color: spot is not 1 solid color

Diameter: melanomas are typically larger than 6 mm (approximately the size of a pencil eraser), though can be smaller when diagnosed

Evolving: the spot has changed in size, color, or shape; or the spot is different from the rest of what is seen on the patient's body


Filed under: Dermatology, Oncology/Hematology

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