Chicago Health | Homepage
Mayo Clinic Q&A: Regular skin checks can help catch melanoma, other skin cancers early

Mayo Clinic Q&A: Regular skin checks can help catch melanoma, other skin cancers early

DEAR MAYO CLINIC: When I was in my teens and 20s, I regularly used a tanning bed. I’m now 43 and very worried about melanoma, so I go to a dermatologist every year for a skin check. I have numerous moles, but the skin check only takes about five minutes. Is this enough time for a thorough evaluation? What are they looking for? What should I be looking for on my own?

ANSWER: You’re wise to keep an eye on your skin. Being evaluated by a dermatologist once a year and checking your skin regularly are two excellent steps you can take to catch melanoma and other types of skin cancer early. The sooner skin cancer is found, the better the chances of curing it.

Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. It develops in cells called melanocytes that produce melanin — the pigment that gives your skin its color. The exact cause of all melanomas isn’t clear, but exposure to ultraviolet, or UV, radiation from sunlight or tanning lamps and beds increases your risk of developing the disease.

The number of melanoma cases has increased dramatically over the past 30 years, especially in middle-age women. The increase may be linked to the rise of tanning bed use in the 1980s, when many women who are now in their 40s and 50s were in their teens.

If melanoma goes unchecked and spreads, it can be very difficult to treat. But if you catch melanoma early, it’s often curable. That’s why it’s so important to be familiar with your skin and report any changes to your dermatologist right away, especially if you’ve had a significant amount of exposure to tanning beds in the past. Get into the habit of checking your skin once a month. In particular, watch for new moles appearing that haven’t been there before.

Know the ABCs of skin cancer, too, and report any of them to your dermatologist. A is for asymmetry: One half of a mole looks different from the other half. B is border: The borders of a mole are uneven, jagged or scalloped. C is for color: The color of a mole is different from one area to another. Specifically, if you see colors of the U.S. flag — red, white or blue — within a mole, that can be a concerning change.

It’s also important to note a mole’s size. If you have a mole larger than about a quarter of an inch across — or about the size of a pencil eraser — have it checked. If there’s a change in the size, shape, color or height of a mole, or if you develop symptoms such as bleeding, itching or tenderness, that should be evaluated, as well.

Keep in mind, too, that there are other kinds of skin cancer in addition to melanoma, including basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. These cancers tend to look like pink, red or scaly spots on your skin that don’t go away on their own.

Although the annual skin check you get from your dermatologist may not last long, it’s a critical part of catching skin cancer early. Dermatologists specialize in skin disorders and can often spot problem areas on the skin quickly. That’s particularly true after you have your first skin assessment, which may take a little longer than your follow-up visits.

Of course, prevention is also key. Protect your skin as much as you can. Whenever possible, stay out of the sun during the middle of the day when UV light is the strongest. When you are outdoors, use plenty of sunscreen in all seasons, and put it on your skin often. The sun protection factor, or SPF, of your sunscreen should be at least 30. Never use a tanning light or a tanning bed, as they can drastically increase your chances of melanoma. — Jerry Brewer, M.D., Dermatology, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.

(Mayo Clinic Q & A is an educational resource and doesn’t replace regular medical care. E-mail a question to MayoClinicQ&A@mayo.edu. For more information, visit www.mayoclinic.org.)

(c) 2015 MAYO FOUNDATION FOR MEDICAL EDUCATION AND RESEARCH. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Similar Articles

Make your diet more nutrient-dense

Make your diet more nutrient-dense

Environmental Nutrition By Matthew Kadey, M.S., R.D., Environmental Nutrition Newsletter There is only so much food you

Gluten related symptoms: Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity?

Gluten related symptoms: Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity?

The Medicine Cabinet: Ask the Harvard Experts By Howard LeWine, M.D. Q: I seem to be very

Start treatment now to prevent spring allergy symptoms

Start treatment now to prevent spring allergy symptoms

The Medicine Cabinet: Ask the Harvard Experts By Howard LeWine, M.D. Q: I have spring allergies. Every

Does your doctor’s gender matter?

Does your doctor’s gender matter?

By Robert H. Shmerling, M.D. Harvard Health Blog I've read medical research studies that surprised me. I've

10 tips to fight osteoporosis

10 tips to fight osteoporosis

Environmental Nutrition By Carrie Dennett, M.P.H., R.D.N., Environmental Nutrition Newsletter Because 70 percent of our bone destiny

Articles By Category

Family Health

In The Know

CH Lifestyle

May 2017
Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
April 30, 2017 May 1, 2017 May 2, 2017 May 3, 2017 May 4, 2017 May 5, 2017 May 6, 2017
May 7, 2017 May 8, 2017 May 9, 2017 May 10, 2017 May 11, 2017 May 12, 2017 May 13, 2017
May 14, 2017 May 15, 2017 May 16, 2017 May 17, 2017 May 18, 2017 May 19, 2017 May 20, 2017
May 21, 2017 May 22, 2017 May 23, 2017 May 24, 2017 May 25, 2017 May 26, 2017 May 27, 2017
May 28, 2017 May 29, 2017 May 30, 2017 May 31, 2017 June 1, 2017 June 2, 2017 June 3, 2017

Categories

Recent Comments

Fund a Cure Night | The Griffith Family Foundation

Fund a Cure Night | The Griffith Family Foundation

Enjoy a great night of baseball at Peoples Natural

VIEW ARTICLE
Swing for the fences in the fight to Sideline Pancreatic Cancer

Swing for the fences in the fight to Sideline Pancreatic Cancer

Enjoy a great night of baseball at Peoples Natural

VIEW ARTICLE

Archives