Sun worshipers beware! The American Cancer Society estimated 47,700 people in the US would be diagnosed with melanoma in 2000 and this number rose to 74,010 by 2010. Skin hasn’t changed and nor has our affliction for the beach and the “healthy” glow - melanoma is here to stay.
For many the idea of getting skin cancer is as likely as winning the lottery. And based on the fact that the majority of us will not get melanoma (or win the lottery), this is true. However, if you are one of the unlucky few who will get melanoma, consider a 5-minute skin check free insurance – two words that generally don’t belong in the same sentence.
First, and foremost, the saving grace of melanoma is it starts on your skin and unlike most any other organ in your body, you can see all of it – all you have to do is look. Second, there are higher cases of melanoma in individuals who are in the sun – wear sunscreen or get a Paris Hilton spray tan. Lastly, all skin types beware. Bob Marley died of melanoma that started on his toe – he was 36 when he died.
So here is your 5-minute test – get a camera, dollar bill and friend/spouse/relative to help you. Someone you don’t mind looking at your skin…maybe all of it– some moles are where you can’t see them! If you don’t have a live person, get a good mirror so you get see as much of your skin as possible.
The key, as with many things in life, is consistency. It doesn’t matter what pattern you use, but make sure it is the same every single time – your life could depend on it! A head down approach is generally the easiest, start by looking through your scalp for any skin irregularities and slowly move down each section of your body. Do not forget inside your mouth, under your nails, the soles of your feet and in between your toes. As a side note, melanoma on the foot is the most deadly location with the least chance of survival. Back to your skin check, the first time you do the check be sure to take as many pictures as possible to show what your skin looks like. When you come across irregularities, place a dollar bill next to the area for reference and take a picture. Once you complete your first skin check you will have a complete skin profile that will always serve as your baseline for future checks.
How often should you do skin checks? Great question. The Skin Cancer Society recommends once a month in a well lit room in front of a full length mirror. Unless you are very fair skinned and/or in the sun a lot this will serve as a good monthly activity. If you are in a more susceptible skin cancer category, how often you check is up to you. Post melanoma, patients return to doctors every three months for a full skin exam.
Regular melanoma skin checks don’t hurt, are free and could absolutely save your life!