It’s a common myth that only fair skinned people are at risk for skin cancer, but actually anyone can get it. In fact, it’s predicted that one in five Americans will develop melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, in their lifetime.
What makes melanoma different from other forms of skin cancer, like basal cell and squamous cell skin cancer, is that other forms tend to stay in one area and grow very slowly. “What makes melanoma potentially deadly is that it can take on a variety of appearances and can mimic benign skin growths, therefore delaying the diagnosis. Another difference is that melanoma can spread to other organs even when it appears as a small speck or growth on the skin. Once it spreads, prognosis dramatically worsens,” says San Antonio, TX, dermatologist Vivian Bucay, MD.
The frequency that you should be checked for skin cancer depends on your family’s history of skin cancer, whether you’ve already had it and your history of sunburns. Those who are at a higher risk should do an at-home skin check once a month, and in-office every six to 12 months. For those who are at a lower risk, a full body exam is recommended every one to two years, says Dr. Bucay. She also recommends doing an annual eye exam as well because melanoma can actually start there too.
A basic skin check involves searching the entire surface of the skin including between the toes to the outer genital area to the scalp. You should also remove all nail polish before the check up because melanoma can hide in your nails as well. If your doctor finds any suspicious moles or spots, they will do a simple biopsy and send it to a dermatopathologist, a physician who specializes in examining skin biopsies.
It’s extremely important to wear sunscreen 365 days of the year, even if you live in a cloudy area. Also, if you live in a higher altitude, your exposure to ultraviolet radiation is increased. It’s always good to stay out of the sun as much as possible, but if you can’t avoid it, be sure to wear a hat, frequently reapply sunscreen, and don’t forget to protect your lips. Also, Dr. Bucay suggests applying sunscreen to your hands and feet before getting a manicure or pedicure that involves using UV light.
With so many people at risk for skin cancer, specifically melanoma, we want to know about you. How often do you get checked for melanoma and other forms of skin cancer? Tell us in the *comments below.
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