Skin cancer is the most common of all cancer types. More than 3.5 million skin cancers are diagnosed each year in the United States. That’s more than all other cancers combined. The number of skin cancer cases has been going up over the past few decades.
The good news is that you can do a lot to protect yourself and your family from skin cancer, or catch it early so that it can be treated effectively. Most skin cancers are caused by too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays. Most of this exposure comes from the sun, but some may come from man-made sources, such as indoor tanning beds.
You don’t need any x-rays or blood tests to find skin cancer early – just your eyes and a mirror. If you have skin cancer, finding it early is the best way to make sure it can be treated with success.
What is Melanoma?
Skin cancer is a cancer that starts in the skin. Some other types of cancer start in other parts of the body and can spread to the skin, but these are not skin cancers. There are 2 main types of skin cancers: keratinocyte cancers (basal and squamous cell skin cancers) and melanomas.
Melanomas can occur anywhere on the body, but are more likely to start in certain locations. The trunk (chest and back) is the most common site in men. In women, the legs are the most common site. The neck and face are other common places for melanoma to start.
Melanomas are not as common as basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers, but they can be far more serious. Like basal cell and squamous cell cancers, melanoma is almost always curable in its early stages. But if left alone, melanoma is much more likely to spread to other parts of the body, where it can be very hard to treat.
Most skin cancers can be found early with skin exams. Both regular exams by your doctor and
checking your own skin frequently can help find cancers early, when they are easier to treat.
Regular skin exams are especially important for people who are at higher risk of skin cancer, such as people with reduced immunity, people who have had skin cancer before, and people with a strong family history of skin cancer. Talk to your doctor about how often you should have your skin examined.
Check Your Own Skin
It’s important to check your own skin, preferably once a month. A skin self-exam is best done in a well-lit room in front of a full-length mirror. You can use a hand-held mirror to look at areas that are hard to see, such as the backs of your thighs. A spouse or close friend or family member may be able to help you with these exams, especially for those hard-to-see areas like your back or scalp. The first time you examine your skin, spend time carefully going over the entire surface. Learn the pattern of moles, blemishes, freckles, and other marks on your skin so that you’ll notice any changes next time. Be sure to show your doctor any areas that concern you.
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