The ABC's of Skin Cancer Screening

Submitted by Dr. Anthony Viol on December 14, 2018

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Diligent Skin Examinations are Important

As the summer months heat up, so does your risk for too much sun exposure−a major cause of skin cancer. As with other cancers, the earlier and less invasive the skin cancer is when detected, the easier it is to treat and cure. But no matter what the time of year, diligent skin examinations are important, including an annual one by a physician.

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Be Aware of Your ABCDEs

Following guidelines established by the American Cancer Society, these checks should concentrate on changes to the skin, including existing moles.

To perform a self-examination, scan yourself from head to toe. Use a mirror to look at your front and back, then raise your arms to look at your left and right sides. Check new or existing moles against these five criteria.

Asymmetry

One half is unlike the other half. If you draw a line through the mole, will both sides roughly match.

Border

An irregular, scalloped or poorly defined border. A regular mole will have a smoother, rounder border.

Color

Does the color vary from one area to another? Does it have shades of tan, brown or black, or is sometimes white, red or blue?

Diameter

Melanomas are usually greater than 6 millimeters (the size of a pencil eraser) when diagnosed, but they can be smaller.

Evolving

A mole or skin lesion that looks different from the rest, or you see any change in size shape or color. If you notice a mole evolving over time, it may be time to see a doctor. In addition to watching out for these common warning signs, seek out medical attention for areas on the skin that won’t heal or scaly patches, particularly in areas that receive high sun exposure.

What Can I Do to Prevent Skin Cancer?

Because of Hampton Roads’ sun-drenched weather, protection and planning are key to maintaining a healthy and skin cancer-free life.

There is no such thing as a “healthy tan”. You should seek shade between 10am and 2pm, wear sun-protective clothing and use board-spectrum sunscreen and lip balm with SPF regularly. It can take up to 30 minutes to absorb sunscreen, so be sure to apply it prior to going outside. Reapply every two hours, or more often if you're swimming or sweating.

The American Cancer Society recommends daily use of a sunscreen with broad-spectrum (UVA and UVB) protection and an SPF of 30 or greater. Consider choosing both sunscreen and lip balm with an SPF of 30 or higher before your next outdoor adventure.

Dr. Viol specializes in all areas of cosmetic and reconstructive surgery with an emphasis on reconstruction following cancer resection, body contouring and wound care. He is a member of the American College of Surgeons, the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery and the American Medical Association. He practices with Commonwealth Plastic Surgery.