Skin Cancer Awareness: Preparing for the Summertime Sun
After a long, drawn-out winter, we are finally seeing some peeks of sunshine and warm weather! As attractive as some may find that bronze-coloured tan, we must also be aware of some of the risks that come with sun exposure.
In the United States, 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime (www.skincancer.org). In Canada, skin cancer accounts for approximately 1/3 of all new cancer diagnoses and its incidence is trending upwards!
Skin cancer is generally divided into two groups: non-melanoma and malignant melanoma.
- Non-melanomas are much more common (about 94% of all skin cancers), and usually develop as a result of ongoing sun exposure. Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) are two non-melanoma skin cancers you may have heard of.
- Malignant melanoma, while rare (6% of all skin cancer), can be very dangerous and even fatal. If caught early, however, it can be readily treated.
How Do I Check for Signs of Skin Cancer?
Monthly self-skin exams are of great importance! Keep an eye out for any changes you notice in any particular moles or spots on your skin, and ensure your healthcare provider has a good look once a year at your skin as well!
When examining your own skin, check from head-to-toe, in a brightly-lit room. Important areas to examine are as follows:
- Head/scalp and face
- Hands and fingernails
- Elbows, arms, and underarms
- Neck, chest/breasts and abdomen
- Back of neck, shoulders, back, buttocks, and legs
- Feet (including soles, heels, and nails)
If you notice an irregular lesion or spot on your skin, do your “ABCDE” check!
A – Asymmetry – Is one half similar in appearance to the other?
B – Borders – Is the spot round, or is there uneven or notched edges?
C – Colors – What shade is it? Is it more than one color (brown, red, white, blue, or black?)
D – Diameter – Is the diameter greater than 6mm? Generally, we become more concerned if a mole is greater in size that the eraser on the end of a pencil
E – Evolution – Has the size, shape, colour, or height of the mole changed? Have you developed any new symptoms such as bleeding, itching, or crusting?
If you have a suspicious lesion, see your healthcare provider to have it assessed.
If they feel it is necessary, you may then be referred for a biopsy to have a look at the cells under a microscope. The treatment then depends on what type of lesion it is, whether or not it is cancerous, how large and deep it goes, and where exactly it is located on your body.
Most importantly – Prevention!!
Avoiding too much sun and sunburn is key!
Keep well-covered whenever possible, find shady areas, wear a hat, and wear your sunscreen!
Also, ensure you re-apply your sunscreen often if you are out for prolonged periods of time, as well as after swimming or excessive sweating.
Health Canada. Skin Cancer. Retrieved from: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hl-vs/sun-sol/expos/skin-cancer-peau-eng.php
The Skin Cancer Foundation. Skin Cancer Awareness Month: Reminders from the Skin Cancer Foundation. Retrieved from: http://www.skincancer.org/news/announcements/skin-cancer-awareness-month-2012