Over 91,000 people in the United States are expected to be diagnosed with new melanomas this year, according to the American Cancer Society. Of that number, over 9,000 are expected to die from their disease.
Much as I don’t like beginning a post with such disturbing news, it’s necessary. Too often, I hear, “People don’t die from skin cancer.” Or: “Skin cancer isn’t that big a deal.” Those claims are absolutely baseless and, as I proved in two sentences, totally false.
Many skin cancers are curable when they’re caught early and removed right away. But every dermatologist has had at least a few patients who’ve lost a nose or an ear to skin cancer.
The key to ensuring you don’t become one of them is to ignore all the noise about skin cancer—just because you don’t burn doesn’t mean you’re not at risk, and, yes, melanoma is common among young adults, but the risk of getting it goes up as you age—and pay close attention to what’s going on with your own skin. That means spending a few minutes in front of a mirror once a month.
What you’re looking for
If you have a family history of melanoma or more than 50 moles on your body, see a dermatologist at least once a year. And those of you with fair skin are more at risk for skin cancer, so you should plan for an annual checkup, too. But it’s smart to see a dermatologist on a regular basis no matter what type of skin you have if you’re someone who spends a lot of time outside.
- In between those visits, everyone should be doing their own full-body scans. Here’s what you’re looking for:
Changing moles. A mole that changes over time or a beauty mark that changes in color, shape, or size can signal melanoma.
- Asymmetrical moles. Imagine folding a mole in half. If it doesn’t match, it’s asymmetrical, which is one of the most prominent skin cancer symptoms.
- Ambiguous borders. Ever notice how your beauty mark is pretty clearly defined? A mole or pigmentation whose edges are less sharp is a potential warning sign.
- Color variation. If a mole, for example, ranges from dark brown in the center to pink at its borders, it could be a clear skin cancer symptom. Skin cancer can also appear black, white, red, or blue.
- Growing moles. Melanomas are usually larger than a pencil eraser, but they can start much smaller. Growth can be difficult to gauge, so try to use nearby marks as a reference point.
And don’t ignore your palms or the bottom of your feet. Moles on either often go unnoticed and, in turn, they’re diagnosed much later, which can lead to complications.
Better safe than sorry
If, during the course of one of your body checks, something raises a concern, get it checked out by a board-certified dermatologist. Even if you think you may be overreacting, schedule an appointment. There’s no harm in having a doctor dispel your worry. Ignoring it, however, can have significant ramifications.