Skin Cancer Prevention

Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers. Melanoma accounts for less than five percent of skin cancer cases. However, it causes most skin cancer deaths. Melanoma can often be found early. Everyone can do things to find this cancer early, when it is curable.

Self Exams: Check your own skin about once a month; know the patterns of moles, freckles, and other marks so that you will notice any changes. Spots on the skin that change in size, shape, or color should immediately be seen by a doctor. Any unusual sore, lump, blemish, marking, or change in the way an area of the skin looks or feels should also be checked by a doctor.

Some ways to reduce your risks:

  • Limit UV exposure - Avoid being outdoors in sunlight too long, especially in the middle of the day
  • Protect your skin with clothing - Long-sleeved shirts, long pants or skirts are the most protective
  • Wear a hat - a hat with at least a 2-3 inch brim all around is good because it protects the neck, ears, eyes, forehead, nose and scalp
  • Use sunscreen - SPF 15 or higher, reapply often and after swimming or sweating

Skin Cancer Facts:

Skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells. If left unchecked, these cancer cells can spread from the skin into other tissues and organs.

There are different types of skin cancer. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common. Melanoma is less common, but more dangerous.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the Unites States. Known risk factors for skin cancer include the following:

  • Complexion: Skin cancers are more common in people with light-colored skin, hair, and eyes
  • Genetics: Having a family history of melanoma increases the risk of developing this cancer
  • Age: Nonmelanoma skin cancers are more common after age 40
  • Sun exposure and sunburn: Most skin cancers occur on areas of the skin that are regularly exposed to sunlight or other ultraviolet radiation. This is considered the primary cause of all skin cancers

Skin Detective:

Skin cancers may have many different appearances. They can be small, shiny, waxy, scaly and rough, firm and red, crusty or bleeding, or have other features. Therefore, anything suspicious should be looked at by a physician. See the articles on specific skin cancers for more information.

Here are some features to look for:

  • Asymmetry: one half of the abnormal skin area is different than the other half
  • Borders: irregular borders
  • Color: varies from one area to another with shades of tan, brown, or black (sometimes white, red, and blue)
  • Diameter: usually (but not always) larger than 6 mm in size (diameter of a pencil eraser)
  • Any skin growth that bleeds or will not heal

Use a mirror or have someone help you look on your back, shoulders, and other hard-to-see areas.

Wear sunglasses, stay in the shade, and protect children. For more information on these and other tips, contact Kirkland Cancer Center at 541-9561 or visit the American Cancer Society website at www.cancer.org.

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