Everything you need to know about skin cancer

You already wear sunblock, you wouldn’t go within 10 feet of a tanning bed, and you know to watch out for weird looking moles, so you’re in the clear as far as skin cancer is concerned, right? Hang on a sec! When it comes to skin cancer, many of us are less informed than we might imagine. In honor of Skin Cancer Awareness Month this May, we’re droppin’ some skin cancer knowledge on ya.

What is skin cancer?

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States with 1 in 5 people being diagnosed at some point in their lives, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Skin cancer causes cells to grow abnormally fast, developing into tumors that can disfigure and, if left untreated, spread to other parts of the body. Some common forms of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer with more than 75,000 diagnoses in 2015 alone.

Are you at risk?

More than half of skin cancer cases could be avoided by properly applying sun protection and skipping the tanning bed, says the American Cancer Society. Unfortunately, even if you’ve reformed your suntanning ways, the effects of the sun are cumulative and can’t be entirely reversed, according to experts (bad news for the 68% of people who don’t use sunscreen while outdoors!).  

Let’s assume you’re already practicing safe sun and applying SPF 15-plus daily, wearing SPF 30-plus when outdoors and reapplying often, wearing protective clothing, and avoiding tanning beds. Aside from sun exposure, some common risk factors for skin cancer, according to the Mayo Clinic, include a history of sunburns, especially early in life, having fair skin (though anyone can get skin cancer), having atypical or a large number of moles, or a family history of skin cancer.

Then, of course, there are the visual clues that something’s up. While most of us know an abnormal-looking mole is cause for concern, there are actually lots of cues that you should check in with your derm. For example, skin cancer can take on any of the following appearances:

  • An asymmetric, uneven colored or irregular mole
  • A change in the size, shape, or color of an existing mole
  • A sore that won’t heal
  • A scaly or red patch
  • A rough, thick, or crusted lesion  
  • A bleeding, itchy, or painful lesion

When to get screened

First off, don’t let your dermatologist have all the skin-cancer-screening fun! You should complete a skin self-check at home every month. Follow the the Skin Cancer Foundation’s step-by-step instructions to complete your self-check.

Anytime you encounter a spot like those described above (or anything else that concerns you) you should reach out to your dermatologist right away. With SkyMD, you can submit a photo of the spot and get a response in just hours.

Additionally, if you have a personal or family history of skin cancer or other risk factors (at your MD’s discretion, of course), you should get a full exam annually from your dermatologist. If you’re behind on your screenings, Skin Cancer Awareness Month is the perfect time to get back on track!

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