Skin Cancer: Tips to Keep Your Skin From Harm

Skin Cancer: Tips to Keep Your Skin From Harm

Medical experts continue to track the rise of malignant melanoma -- a type of deadly skin cancer that was once rare but is now increasing faster than any other type of cancer in the United States. Last year alone, more than 600,000 cases of skin cancer were reported. The good news is that death rates from skin cancer, including melanoma, are small -- 9 out of 10 cases are cured.

Sunlight is the most common cause of melanoma skin cancer. People at the highest risk tend to have fair skin, red, or blond hair and light-colored eyes; are easily sunburned; or spend a lot of time outdoors. Any form of tanning, whether it's from the sun, a sunlamp or tanning bed, can significantly increase the risk of skin cancer.

Skin cancer often shows up as an irregularly shaped or multi-colored mole. Use the ABCDE rule to decide if a mole is suspicious.

A is for asymmetry: does the right half of the mole look different than the left half?

B is for border: does the mole have jagged or blurry-looking edges?

C is for color: does the mole get darker or have multiple colors?

D is for diameter: is the mole larger than 1/4 inch?

E is for elevation: is the mole raised above the skin or does it have an uneven surface?

Other warning signs are: a mole that bleeds, grows fast, is scaly, won't heal, or itches.

Prevent skin cancer by limiting your time in the sun and by never using a sunlamp or tanning bed. If you must work or play in the sun, follow these tips:

Limit exposure, especially from 10 a.m.-3 p.m.

Wear a hat that shades your forehead, ears, nose, and cheeks,

Wear tightly-woven clothing to block the sun's rays.

Use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher for extra protection. Caution: no sunscreen totally protects you from the sun's harmful rays -- try to limit your time in the sun.

Your family physician is a medical specialist whose broad training includes diagnosing and treating many skin disorders. Family physicians are trained to treat people of all ages for 9 out of 10 medical problems, and can help you spot skin cancer and reduce your risks of getting it.

The preceding article was provided as a public service in support of Family Health Month by The American Academy of Family Physicians, 8880 Ward Parkway, Kansas City, Missouri 64114-2797 USA, (800) 274-2237, ext. 4218, or (816) 333-9700; FAX: (816) 333-3344.

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