May is Skin Cancer and Melanoma Awareness Month, the perfect time to discuss the dangers of unprotected sun exposure, the importance of early detection, and sun-safe habits.
Skin cancer – including melanoma, basal, and squamous cell carcinomas – is the most common type of cancer in the United States.
National statistics show Connecticut is among the states with the highest incidence of melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer.
Why are our rates so high? I believe it’s because our population is mainly of northern European ancestry getting episodic exposure to ultraviolet radiation: after long winters, we enjoy the intense sunshine during brief summers.
The good news? If diagnosed and treated early, skin cancer can often be cured – and that includes melanoma.
Melanoma is more prevalent in men than women, and can occur anywhere on the skin, not just in areas with the most sun exposure. Check your skin regularly to become familiar with your moles and any changes that occur. Sometimes, you won’t notice anything unusual but your spouse, friend or hairdresser may point something out. The key is to get suspicious lesions evaluated by a dermatologist as soon as possible.
The ABCDE’s can help you remember skin cancer symptoms. Melanoma usually starts as a dark spot (flat or raised) that has one or more of the following features which apply to new or changing moles:
B. Irregular borders
C. Color variation
D. Diameter greater than 6 mm
E. Evolution, or change over time including pain, itching, or bleeding
Fortunately, skin cancer is one of the most preventable forms of cancer. Here are tips to reduce your risk:
Practicing these sun-safe habits will not only reduce your risk of skin cancer, but will help you age more gracefully since 90% of the visible signs of aging are due to sun exposure.
Dr. Timothy Monahan is a dermatologist with Day Kimball Medical Group at Day Kimball Healthcare Center in Danielson. For more resources to help keep your skin healthy, and for information about dermatology services available through Day Kimball Healthcare, visit www.daykimball.org/healthyskin.