May is National Skin Cancer Awareness Month, and Lake Regional Health System encourages lake-area residents and visitors to get in the habit of regular skin checks.
“Regular skin checks let you know what is normal for you,” said Oncologist Michael Wang, M.D., at Lake Regional Cancer Center. “If you are familiar with your skin, you will be more likely to catch skin cancers earlier when treatment is more effective and results are better.”
How Common Is Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, every year, there are more new cases of skin cancer than all breast, prostate, lung and colon cancers combined.
Melanoma is the form of skin cancer that is most commonly fatal. Although melanoma accounts for less than 2 percent of skin cancer cases, it causes 75 percent of skin cancer deaths. The rates of melanoma have been rising for at least 30 years. Risk factors include extensive ultraviolet light exposure (from the sun or tanning beds), a family history of melanoma, many or unusual nevi (moles), and fair skin.
Although the risk of melanoma increases with age, this cancer also affects young people. In fact, it is one of the most common cancers in young adults.
How Do I Check for Skin Cancer?
To detect skin cancer early, regularly examine your skin head-to-toe and watch for changes. The National Cancer Institute gives these steps for a thorough skin cancer self-exam:
- Look at your face, neck, ears and scalp. You also may want to have a relative or friend check your scalp.
- Look at the front and back of your body using a full-length mirror and hand-held mirror, as needed. Then, raise your arms and look at your left and right sides.
- Bend your elbows. Look carefully at your fingernails, palms, forearms (including the undersides) and upper arms.
- Check the back, front and sides of your legs. Also, check the skin all over your buttocks and genital area.
- Sit and closely examine your feet, including your toenails, the soles of your feet and the spaces between your toes.
Learn where your moles are and their usual look and feel. Check for anything new, such as:
- a new mole (that looks different from your other moles)
- a new red or darker color flaky patch that may be a little raised
- a change in the size, shape, color or feel of a mole
Also look for patches that are dark red, asymmetrical, uneven in color or larger than the size of a pencil eraser, or have irregular or ragged borders. Any abnormalities should be reported to your physician.
Write down the dates of your skin self-exams, and make notes about the way your skin looks on those dates. You may find it helpful to take photos to help check for changes.
“Unlike most cancers, skin cancer begins where you can see it,” Dr. Wang said. “If you can spot it, you can stop it. If something raises your suspicions, don’t wait. See your doctor right away.”
Get a Free Skin Cancer Screening
Lake Regional Cancer Center will host a free skin cancer screening on Friday, May 4. This screening is open to the public, but space is limited and appointments are required.
To participate in Lake Regional’s free skin cancer screening, call the Cancer Center at 573.302.2784 or 573.302.2885 to schedule an appointment. Appointments will be set on a first-come, first-served basis between 8:30 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Lake Regional Cancer Center provides comprehensive cancer care close to home for lake-area residents. The nationally accredited center offers a range of services to treat the whole person — not just the disease. These services include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, nutrition therapy, palliative care, support groups and educational classes. The center treats several types of cancer, including bladder, breast, colon, lung, lymphoma and prostate. To learn more, visit www.lakeregional.com/CancerCare.