Skin Cancer Screening is as Easy as ABCDE

Submitted by Dr. Anthony Viol on June 28, 2021

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Diligent Skin Examinations are Important.

Skin cancer is a hot topic in the summer, but sun protection should be on our minds year-round. It’s the most common cancer in the United States and worldwide. The American Cancer Society estimates that one in five Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70. 

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Skin cancer is a risk for everyone.

While skin cancer is more common in the non-Hispanic white population, it can affect anyone. Research shows that skin cancer in patients with skin of color is often discovered in later stages when it has spread and is harder to treat.

Early detection is vital.

As with other cancers, the earlier and less invasive the skin cancer is when detected, the easier it is to treat and cure. In fact, when detected early, the five-year survival rate for melanoma is 99 percent. That’s why diligent self-examinations are important and the reason all adults should undergo an annual skin screening by a physician.

Self-checks at home.

Following guidelines established by the American Cancer Society, at home skin screening checks should concentrate on changes to the skin, including existing moles.
To perform a self-examination, scan yourself from head to toe. Face a mirror to look at your front and back, then raise your arms to look at your left and right sides. Be sure to check every surface of your skin. Look for new or existing moles against these five criteria.
  • Asymmetry - One half is unlike the other half. An irregular shaped mole with two sides that look very different is a warning sign.  
  • Border - An irregular, scalloped, or poorly defined border. A regular mole will have a smoother, rounder edge.
  • Color - Is the color uneven from one area to another? Does it have shades of tan, brown or black, or is sometimes white, red or blue? Color changes could be a warning sign.
  • Diameter - Melanomas are usually greater than 6 millimeters (the size of a pencil eraser) when diagnosed, but they can be smaller. Seek a doctor's opinion if they are bigger than this or change in size.
  • Evolving - A mole or skin lesion that looks different from the rest, or if you see any change in size, shape or color. If you notice a mole evolving over time, it’s time to see a doctor.
In addition to watching out for these common warning signs, seek medical attention for areas on the skin that bleed or won’t heal after several weeks. If there are scaly or rough patches, new or expanding growths or spots, and wart-like growths, particularly in areas that receive high sun exposure, make an appointment with your physician.

How can I 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.” Avoid tanning beds and sun lamps. And according to the American Cancer Society, when you’re outside, you should protect yourself by staying in the shade between 10am and 4pm (a change from previous recommendations of 2pm), when UV rays are strongest. Wear sun-protective clothing, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses that block at least 99 percent of UV light and use a broad-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 and 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. Anthony Viol is a plastic surgeon who 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 and is the Medical Director of Chesapeake Regional's Advanced Wound Care & Hyperbaric Center.