ABCs of Skin Cancer

Skin Cancer EncinoWhile you may associate “ABC” with the Jackson Five, when it comes to your skin it pays to remember ABCDE. Those five letters are an easy way to remember five steps in identifying growths that could be skin cancer.

Living in sunny Southern California, most of us are aware of the dangers presented by the sun. Gone are the days of slathering baby oil all over our bodies and lying in the sun for hours on end. Gone are the days of the Coppertone little girl and her famous tan line.

The key to beating skin cancer is to catch it early. Since Dr. Malamet performs Moh’s reconstruction surgery after skin cancer removal, he wants his patients to think about the skin and take measures to minimize the sun’s impact. Here is some additional information on skin cancer.

Who gets skin cancer?

If you have a lighter skin tone, you may have friends who spend more time in the sun, but never seem even to have a suspicious lesion frozen off at the dermatologist. You, on the other hand, get a full bottle of liquid nitrogen! Why is this? It all comes down to melanin. Melanin is the pigment in the skin that helps protect it from the sun. Melanin is what is responsible for turning the skin a darker tone (tanning) after receiving sun exposure. This is a protection mechanism.

The problem is, people with fair skin have less melanin, so they are less protected. The ultraviolet rays from the sun can alter the genetic material in skin cells, causing them to mutate into cancerous cells. It is estimated that 40 to 50% of people with fair skin (who live to be at least 65 years of age) will develop at least one skin cancer in their lives. With the amount of sun we get in Southern California, many, many people have multiple skin cancers.

Different cancers

Squamous cell carcinomas and basal cell carcinomas are more common than melanoma, and they come from different types of sun exposure. Squamous and basal cell carcinomas are the results of the amount of overall sun exposure. Fair-skinned people who spend a lot of time outdoors will likely develop one of these two skin cancers. Melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer, isn’t thought to come from prolonged sun exposure, but from the intensity. It is believed that melanoma is triggered by the scorching sunburns where the person’s skin blisters and peels afterward. Research has shown that just one blistering sunburn during childhood doubles a person’s risk of developing melanoma later in life. While we all protect our children these days from receiving those types of burns, in our childhood (if you’re over 50), it was a different story.

Know your ABCDEs

These five letters can come in handy when looking for skin cancers on your skin.

  • Asymmetry— If one-half of the mole doesn’t match the other half, that’s a concern. Normal moles are symmetrical.
  • Border— If the border or edges of your mole are ragged, blurred, or irregular, that is a reason to see a dermatologist. Melanoma lesions often have irregular borders.
  • Color— Normal moles are a single shade throughout. If your mole has changed color or if it has different shades of tan, brown, black, blue, white, or red, then it should be checked.
  • Diameter— If a mole is larger than the eraser of a pencil it needs to be checked.
  • Evolving— If a mole evolves by shrinking, growing larger, changing color, itching or bleeding, or other changes it should be checked. Melanoma lesions often grow or gain height rapidly.

In our sunny home, we all need to be aware of the signs of skin cancer. Dr. Malamet is an expert in repairing the skin after the removal of a tumor, but, as usual, the best remedy is to avoid the sun damage first. Call Dr. Malamet at 818-380-3130.

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