GHS Cares: The ABC's of Checking for Skin Cancer
According to the American Cancer Society, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. The three most common types of skin cancer include squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Thankfully, squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma tend to grow slower with a much lower risk of spreading to other parts of the body. Melanoma, on the other hand, can be invasive and deadly.
Fact #1 One in five Americans will develop some form of skin cancer by age 70. To reduce this risk, limit UV exposure.
The best way to prevent skin cancer is by limiting exposure to UV rays from the sun. First and foremost, artificial tanning booths should be avoided. Although time spent outdoors is generally recommended for overall health, it is important to take necessary precautions to protect skin from sun exposure. Interestingly, UV rays are strongest in the late spring and early summer in North America, so now is the time to be thinking about sun exposure. Specifically, you can help minimize this exposure by wearing a hat, sun block with at least SPF 15 (although SPF 30+ is preferred), and try to limit sun exposure in the middle of the day.
Fact #2 If you have any risk factors for skin cancer you should see your doctor for a yearly skin check.
Some people are at a greater risk for skin cancer than others. Risk factors for skin cancer include a family history of skin cancer (look into your family medical history), history of significant sun exposure and prior sunburns, a large number of moles, red hair, and any immune-suppressing medicines or conditions. If any of these risk factors apply to you, you should have an annual skin check with either your primary care doctor or your dermatologist (skin doctor). A skin check appointment is a dedicated appointment where you focus just on your skin. Your provider will examine you from head to toe for any unusual moles, freckles, or skin irregularities.
Fact #3 Home checks for skin irregularities can be done by following the “alphabet checklist.”
You can also check your skin at home. You will likely need another person or a mirror to make sure you check your back and other hard-to-see places. Remember, though, that a home skin check doesn’t replace a doctor’s evaluation. If you choose to do a home skin check, remember the “ABCDEs” of skin cancer checks, as they can be signs of increased risk for cancer:
- A stands for asymmetry - asymmetric or irregular shaped moles
- B stands for borders - raised, irregular rough borders
- C stands for color - a mole with uneven or multiple colors or different colors from your other moles
- D stands for diameter (or size) - a mole that is bigger than a pencil eraser
- E stands for evolution (or change) - a mole that seems to have appeared or changed quickly
If you notice any of the “ABCDEs” apply to one of your moles please see your doctor for further evaluation. Your doctor may recommend a biopsy which is a fairly easy procedure that involves taking a very small tissue sample of the mole. The sample can be looked at under a microscope to make sure it’s not cancerous.
Dr. Liz Baltaro and Dr. Amy Nayo are primary care physicians expanding community access to quality pediatric and family medicine at Granville Primary Care, Butner-Creedmoor, located at 1614 NC Highway 56, Butner. To schedule your primary care appointment, please call 919-575-6103 or schedule online at ghshospital.org. You can schedule a primary care appointment with a provider as far as 12 months in advance through online scheduling.