Skin Cancer Awareness Month: Facts and Tips to Know for Prevention & Detection

May 2024

May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, an important time to educate about skin cancer prevention and early detection. Our skin is our largest organ, which makes it more susceptible to damage. Sun damage, as we know, is dangerous for our skin as it can lead to the development of skin cancer.

Compounding the risk is the reality that individuals often don’t get their skin checked by a dermatologist or conduct regular self-exams at home. Both are important ways to identify any abnormalities on the skin that should be tested or treated to rule out skin cancer. 

Early detection of skin cancer is key to making treatment more effective, and although skin cancer is usually visible, it often goes undetected without a professional dermatologist conducting a thorough skin check.

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the U.S., with nearly 10,000 people diagnosed every day. These rates are only increasing – especially among women and those under the age of 40 – making spreading awareness a critically important mission.

In this post, we collaborated with board-certified dermatologist of our Scarborough location, Dr. Daniel Cuozzo, to discuss how to check for skin cancer and identify abnormalities. We’re also going to walk you through something called the ABCDEs of Melanoma, which provides a guide to follow in what to look for to identify Melanoma skin cancer.

How to Perform a Self-Exam for Skin Cancer

The more regularly you conduct a self-exam, the more likely it is that you will notice any new or different spots on your skin and be able to intervene early. There are elements of our skin that naturally change over time, but you should always err on the side of caution and see a board-certified dermatologist with any concerns.

Here are the American Academy of Dermatology Association’s recommendations for how to perform a self-exam for skin cancer:

  1. Use a full-length mirror in a brightly lit space to examine the front, back, right, and left sides of your body. Raise your arms to view hard-to-see places.
  2. Examine your underarms, forearms, the palms of your hands, and your fingernails.
  3. Look at the soles of your feet, your toenails, the spaces between your toes, and the backs of your feet and legs.
  4. Examine your neck and scalp using a small hand mirror, being sure to part your hair for a better look at different areas of your scalp.
  5. Check your back and buttocks, also using a hand mirror.

The ABCDEs of Melanoma

Melanoma is a serious skin cancer because it can spread from the skin to other parts of the body. Once it has spread deeper into the skin or other parts of the body, it becomes more difficult to treat. However, when detected and treated early melanoma is usually curable, making a compelling argument for self-exams and annual skin checks with your dermatologist.

When conducting a self-exam, here is the ABCDE rule for identifying the warning signs of Melanoma.

A – Asymmetry: One side of the mole is not like the other.

B – Border: There is an irregular or poorly defined border around the mole.

C – Color: The mole is multiple shades of color (usually brown), but can also be pinkish or even black.

D – Diameter: A mole diagnosed with Melanoma is typically the size of an eraser head or larger, but it can be smaller.

E – Evolving: Your mole either looks very different from other moles on your body or has changed in appearance from when you first noticed it. These evolutions can include color, size, or shape.

Beyond these points, any skin abnormality, especially one that does not heal, is bleeding, itching, flaking, or changing in shape, color, or size, should be looked at by a board-certified dermatologist to rule out skin cancer and treat any other skin issue you may be suffering from.

Check at Home – and With Your Dermatologist

We’ve talked a lot about the importance of skin checks at home and at least once each year with your board-certified dermatologist. Seeing a dermatologist annually is a perfect complement to self-exams, not only for skin cancer prevention but to manage any other skin issues.

Here is what you can expect from a full body skin check visit:

  • A skin check appointment is typically about 10 to 20 minutes long and begins with a conversation about your specific concerns, medical and family history, and any questions you may have.
  • Depending on your medical or family history, you may be considered a higher-risk patient, in which case we pay close attention to specific areas of the body that are more susceptible to skin cancer. This information also helps us know what to monitor over time.
  • We conduct a full head-to-toe exam, making note of any areas of the skin that we should monitor or test.

Keep Your Skin Cancer Awareness & Prevention Going All Year Long

We can’t stress enough that skin cancer awareness is important all year round.

Prevention goes beyond skin checks – daily sun protection is critical and includes wearing sunscreen daily with an SPF of 30 or more, especially on areas that are regularly exposed like your face, neck, chest, and hands. You should also wear sun protective clothing and seek shade when the sun’s rays are the strongest, between 10am and 2pm.

Skin cancer awareness leads to prevention, detection, and greater success rates for treatment.

If you’d like to schedule a skin check to discuss your concerns and questions about your skin health, contact us today to set up an appointment with a provider in your area.