Skin cancer: Risk factors and self-exam are key
Laurie Marbas, M.D.
Living in Colorado, with more than 300 days of intense sunshine, we are at risk for damaging sunburns and increasing our risks of skin cancer. Research has shown that people with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop skin cancer. So it is essential that you know your risks and how to do a self-exam and use sunscreen when outside.
Risk factors include:
• Ultraviolet, or UV, light that comes from the sun and tanning beds and causes sunburns. The greater the number of sunburns, the larger the risk for skin cancer.
• Individuals with light skin, blond hair or blue eyes.
• Scars or burns on the skin.
• Infection with certain human papilloma viruses and herpes viruses.
• Arsenic exposure.
• Conditions that increase the sensitivity of the skin, such as xeroderma pigmentosum, albinism, basal cell nevus syndrome and certain medications.
• Radiation therapy or large amounts of X-ray exposure.
• Immunosuppression caused from disease (HIV), organ transplant or use of chemotherapy drugs.
• Personal history of skin cancer.
• Family history of skin cancer, such as melanoma.
• Actinic keratosis, which is a precancerous lesion that, if left untreated, can turn into squamous cell carcinoma.
• disease is a variant of squamous cell carcinoma and first appears as a single raised red plaque.
If you suspect that you are at risk for skin cancer, you should discuss your concerns with your health care provider.
How to do a self-exam
Skin cancer has a 95 percent cure rate when found early. Along with annual skin exams done by your health care provider, monthly self skin exams are essential for early detection.
When performing self-examinations, you should become familiar with your skin’s moles, freckles and birthmarks. You will be looking for any new growths or changes in color, texture, size or shape in existing marks or blemishes. Signs to look for include:
• New or existing sores that do not seem to heal and/or bleed.
• Black streaks in the nail bed.
• Red rough patches, especially on the arms, hands, face, neck and rims of ears.
• Bumps that appear to be clear or translucent.
• Changes in existing moles or growth of a new mole.
You will need a well-lit room, full length mirror and a hand mirror to check all body parts. Here is a step-by-step method for self-examination:
1. Examine your head, face and scalp. If you have difficulty visualizing all of your scalp, your hair dresser or barber will be able to help you.
2. Next, focus on your hands, nails, armpits, elbows and arms in the full-length mirror.
3. Check your neck, chest, abdomen and the front of your legs. It is also very important to inspect under and around the breasts.
4. With your back towards the full-length mirror, use the hand mirror to examine your neck, back, shoulders, flanks, the backs of your upper arms, buttocks and the back of your legs.
5. It is also very important to check the lower legs, ankles, the top and bottom of your feet and nails.
6. Finally, use the hand mirror to check the genitals.
Remember that self-examinations could save your life, so do them every month. Also, if you find any concerning lesions or areas, contact your health care provider immediately.
Dr. Laurie Marbas is a family physician at Grand River Hospital and Medical Center in Rifle.
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