Summer has again come and gone. Students are back in school and
new routines have been established. It is safe to say that fall is upon us.
As the calendar turns to October, we enter Cancer Awareness Month.
Many cancers can be detected early through routine screening. Most of
us are aware of screening tools for breast, cervical and colon cancer.
When was the last time you considered screening for skin cancer? Your
primary care health provider can be your first line of defense in
recognizing skin cancer, the most common type of cancer in the United
States. There are three types of skin cancer, basal cell, squamous cell
and melanoma. Basal cell and squamous cell occur more frequently
and rarely spread. Melanoma is less common, however is more likely to
spread. All three types can be detected in a skin cancer screening. A
skin cancer screening (also called a skin check) is a visual exam of the
skin. This can be performed by you, your primary care provider or a
dermatologist. A full body scan will occur, taking note of any moles,
birthmarks or other lesions. A skin cancer screening cannot diagnose
skin cancer. Instead, it is used to identify suspicious lesions that will be
sampled with a biopsy. The biopsy will send part of the lesion to be
looked at under a microscope. This will determine if the lesion is
cancerous and, if positive, the type of cancer.
When performing a skin check, special attention should be given to any
moles or lesions that have changed over time. These changes may
include increasing size, oozing, bleeding or becoming crusty. Any lesion
that is painful to touch or a sore that does not heal within two weeks
should be brought to the attention of your primary care provider or
dermatologist. Also any lesion that has irregular borders or is shiny, red
pearly white or translucent bump should also be considered for biopsy.
An easy way to remember the signs of skin cancer is the “ABCDE”
(asymmetry, border, color, diameter and evolving) method. Each lesion
should be evaluated for asymmetry. If there is an odd shape that is not
the same on both sides, notify your provider. Borders of normal moles
and lesions should be smooth and well defined. Have the mole
evaluated if the border of the mole is ragged or irregular. Inspect the
mole for color. Each lesion should be the same color throughout, and
color variation is considered abnormal. Check the size of the lesion. If
the diameter is larger than a pea or pencil eraser, it should be
monitored. Watch evolving moles, this means any mole that changes in
size, shape or color should be considered for biopsy. If you notice any
of these warning signs, speak with your healthcare provider as soon as
Skin cancer, like many other cancers, is best treated with early
detection. Undergoing regular skin checks, either at home or in a
provider’s office, will help identify suspicious lesions and promote early
treatment. If you have questions about how to conduct a skin cancer
screening, or about ways to reduce your risk of developing skin cancer,
I would encourage you to speak with your healthcare provider.
~Emily Roling, MSN, ARNP, FNP-BC