May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month!

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As spring turns to summer and we head outdoors,  it is a great time to remember how important it is to protect our skin from Colorado’s strong sun.  While we are blessed with so many days of sunshine, the ultraviolet (UV) rays that shine down also cause considerable damage.  May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month and provides an opportunity to encourage us all to cover up and keep an eye out for signs of skin cancer. 


Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer and is caused by UV radiation from the sun or tanning beds.  According to the Skin Cancer Foundation and American Cancer Society, 5.4 million skin cancers are diagnosed each year in the U.S., leading to over 27,000 deaths.  Fortunately, skin cancers can be prevented and can often be identified and treated at an early stage by knowing the warning signs.


The three most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.  Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma often present as non-healing sores or “pimples” that won’t go away after a couple of months.  They often bleed or scab and can turn into non-healing sores and in some patients can become more dangerous.  Melanoma, on the other hand, can be more deadly and appears as a new spot on the skin or a mole that changes in size, color, or shape. 


The ABCDE rule can help identify melanoma: 

  •     Asymmetry:  A mole with an irregular shape or different on two sides
  •     Borders:  Irregular, blurred, or notched borders of the mole
  •     Color:  Most benign moles are uniform in color.  Concerning moles may have different colors
  •     Diameter:  Moles greater than ¼ inch in diameter have a higher risk for being melanoma
  •     Evolution:  Moles that change over time deserve to be evaluated


Recognition is important, but prevention is even better.  Because skin cancer is caused by ultraviolet radiation, using sunscreen, hats, and sun-protective clothing can reduce our risk of skin cancer and other forms of damage caused by the sun such as wrinkles and age spots.  In upcoming articles, I will discuss more specifics about ways we can protect our skin and optimize our dermal health.


So, remember to slip on a shirt, slap on a hat, and slop on some sunscreen this spring and summer.  Try to get to know your body, and be aware of these signs of skin cancer.  Finally, take a look at the skin of your loved ones, and if you see something that concerns you, let them know and make sure they see one of our board-certified dermatologists.  You could save a life!