Part of a series of monthly columns from the Nashoba Valley Medical Center.
You may feel healthier with a bit of a tan, but the sunlight that warms our bones and make flowers grow contains ultraviolet (UV) radiation that can damage the skin. Exposure to UV radiation from sunlight can lead to sunburn, which causes premature wrinkling and changes in skin pigmentation, and can lead to skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most diagnosed type of cancer in the U.S. The good news is that skin cancer can be prevented, and it can almost always be cured when it's found and treated early.
The most common types of skin cancer are basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma, which tend to result from years of prolonged exposure to the sun. Melanoma is a rare, but more dangerous form of skin cancer and it is more likely to spread to other parts of the body.
Knowing your Risk
Anyone can get skin cancer. The risk is highest for people with white or light-colored skin with freckles, blond or red hair, or blue or green eyes.
You are at higher risk for melanoma if you have unusual moles, a large number of moles (more than 50), or a family history of melanoma.
Get to Know the ABCDEs of Your Moles
To detect skin cancer early, examine your skin all over your body and watch for changes over time. By checking your skin regularly, you'll discover what is normal for you.
The best time to check your skin is after a shower or bath.
Malignant moles can vary in appearance. Keep in mind the ABCDE's when checking your moles:
Asymmetrical Shape: Look for moles with irregular shapes
Border: Look for moles with uneven, ragged or blurred borders
Color Changes: Look for growths that have many colors (brown, black, tan and sometimes patches of red, blue or white) and an uneven distribution of color
Diameter: Look for growths larger than ? inch (the size of a pencil eraser)
Evolving: Look for a mole or skin lesion that looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape or color.
"Also, pay attention to growths that ooze, itch, bleed, cause pain, get scaly or crusty, become hard or lumpy or spread their pigment into surrounding skin," says Peter Muz, MD, a dermatologist affiliated with Nashoba Valley Medical Center. "These can also be signs of a possible skin cancer."
Protect Your Skin from the Sun
Most skin cancer appears after age 50, but skin damage from the sun can start during childhood. The best way to prevent skin cancer is to protect your skin from the sun and other sources of UV rays, such as tanning beds or sun lamps.
If you have any question about your risk for skin cancer or find anything unusual during a skin exam, talk to your doctor. If you need help finding a Nashoba Valley Medical Center primary care physician, call 978-784-9990.