As Cancer Awareness Month (March) draws to a close and the weather begins to warm up, it’s a particularly appropriate time to highlight the importance of protecting against and early detection of skin cancer. Many people are still unaware that skin cancer is the most pervasive form of cancer. In fact, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, over the last three decades, more people have had skin cancer than all other cancers combined.
This shocking statistic is attributed to all the multiple forms of skin cancer, with the most invasive and serious form being melanoma. Even though melanoma accounts for roughly 1 percent of skin cancer cases, it carries the highest mortality rate. An estimated 1,150 Canadians die annually from the disease and it’s reported that every 52 minutes an American dies from melanoma and related complications.
To avoid being one of the new diagnoses, it’s crucial that you protect and monitor your skin. When found early enough, almost all skin cancers are treatable and not life threatening.
Dr Paul Lubitz - Guide to Skin Cancer Self Screening
First, for a successful self-exam, you need to know what to look for. Take note of any new moles or skin growths and any monitor existing growths that begin to grow or change significantly. Lesions that itch, change, bleed, or don't heal are also warning signs you should be aware of.
An easy way to remember what to look for with respect to moles is with the acronym: ABCDE.
Asymmetry - Refers to the shape of a mole. A malignant mole is often asymmetrical where if the lesion is cut in half, one side does not look like the other side while a benign mole is symmetrical.
Border - Again referencing shape, border refers to the outer edge of a mole. Malignant moles tend to have a rough, non-uniform edge or border. Moles that have an irregular border are often an indication of early melanoma.
Colour - A mole that is multiple colours within the same lesion or demonstrates different shades other than brown is often an indicator of skin cancer. Melanomas often appear to have hues of red, white, black or blue.
Diameter - Unlike A and B, diameter relates to the size of the mole. Non-cancerous moles usually have a smaller diameter than malignant ones. A good rule of reference is the size of an eraser tip of a pencil; melanomas are usually larger in diameter than the 6 mm eraser tip.
Evolving - This characteristic or trait of a mole requires the monitoring of moles for change over a period of time. Be on the alert for any changes in size, shape, color, elevation, other traits, or any new symptoms such as bleeding, itching or crusting. If you recognize any of these characteristics, it is important to book a screening examination with a certified dermatologist, an accredited skin specialist.
“What should I expect from a professional skin cancer screening, Dr Paul Lubitz?”
A skin cancer screening is easy, painless and relatively quick. A regular and complete skin screening should be a regular part of a health care regimen, especially for those people who spend a lot of time outdoors, or for people that live in a high-risk area such as the Bow Valley because of the higher elevation.
1. First, an initial assessment is conducted where information about a patient’s history and predisposition to skin cancer is gathered. Questions are related to: your family and personal skin history, skin cancer history, frequency of sun exposure, history of sunburns, whether you've ever used indoor tanning beds and how often and the type of sun protection you use.
2. From there, a physical examination is conducted carefully examining any moles, lesions or skin growths. In some cases, your dermatologist may use a magnifying lens, magnifying glasses or a sophisticated instrument called a dermatoscope in order to better examine questionable skin lesions.
3. If there is an area of concern, the doctor will then discuss his findings with you, at which point you both can decide on an effective course of action which might include a skin biopsy, digital imaging or careful observation of the skin lesion.
Performed regularly, self-examinations and professional screenings can alert you to changes in your skin and aid in the early detection of skin cancer. Self-exams should be done at least once a month and a complete skin examination ideally by a board certified dermatologist should be booked annually or sooner if you notice any of changes listed above.