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The ABC's of Detecting Skin Cancer

May 22, 2015

I am surprised at the number of skin cancers I see every week in Northeast Connecticut. National statistics show Connecticut is among the states with the highest incidence of melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer. I believe our rates are high because our population is mainly of northern European ancestry getting episodic exposure to ultraviolet radiation: after our long winters, we tend to enjoy the intense sunshine during our brief summers. 

Anyone at any age can get melanoma but white males over the age of 50 are the most at risk. The rates for women, however, have been increasing dramatically in the last few decades, probably due to indoor tanning. Although sunburns and tanning increase your risk of melanoma, I have had many patients who never had significant sun exposure who nevertheless developed melanoma.

The good thing about melanoma is that it is almost always curable if found in early stages. The key is to get suspicious lesions evaluated by a dermatologist as soon as possible. 

Melanomas can occur anywhere on the skin and not just in areas that got the most sun exposure. Check your skin regularly from head to toe and you’ll 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. Get it checked.

Melanoma usually starts as a dark spot (flat or raised) that has one or more of the following features: 

A: Asymmetry

B: Borders that are jagged, notched or indistinct

C: Color variation

D: Diameter greater than 6 mm

E: Evolution, or change over time

The development of pain, itch or bleeding in a mole is unusual and deserves an evaluation. Note that the lesion does not have to be raised to be suspicious. In fact, most early melanomas are flat.

Reduce your risk of skin cancer by avoiding sunburns or tanning, even indoor tanning, as there is no such thing as a healthy tan. Other commonsense practices are: 

  • Avoid hours of intense sunlight (generally 10 a.m.- 3 p.m.)
  • Restrict your time in the sun 
  • Wear more clothing or special sun protective clothing 
  • Wear broad brimmed hats
  • Use broad spectrum sunscreens with an SPF of at least 30 and reapply every 2 hours (SPF 70 is recommended if you apply thin coats).

 

Practicing these measures will not only reduce your risk of skin cancer, you will also age more slowly because 90% of the visible signs of aging are due to sun exposure.

Dr. Timothy Monahan is a dermatologist with Day Kimball Medical Group.




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