In addition to annual exams by a medical professional, you also should examine your own skin regularly.

The following post is based on a recent presentation at the BWH Kessler Health Education Library, given by Dr. Vinod Nambudiri, a resident in the BWH Department of Dermatology and BWH Department of Medicine. 

Did you know that skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States each year, surpassing breast, lung, prostate, and colon cancers combined? In fact, one in five Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer at some point in his or her lifetime.

The most common skin cancers are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, followed by melanoma and other skin cancers. When identified early, almost all skin cancers can be cured with treatment.

“Learning the ABCDEs of skin cancer is important in identifying, treating, and preventing skin cancer,” says Dr. Vinod Nambudiri. “People can look for signs of skin cancer in moles or skin lesions using these letters, and a self skin exam is quick, easy, and free.”

A – Asymmetry: One half is unlike the other half.

B – Borders: Irregular, scalloped, or poorly defined border.

C – Color: Varied from one area to another (shades of tan or brown, black, red, white, or blue).

D – Diameter: Diameter of 6mm or larger (size of a pencil eraser).

E – Evolution: Looks different from the rest, or is changing in size, color, or shape.

To perform a self skin exam, find a full-length mirror and a hand mirror. Standing in front of the full-length mirror, raise your arms and examine your body front and back, then your right and left sides. Next, bend your elbows, looking carefully at your forearms, the back of your upper arms, and your palms. Then, examine the back of your legs and your feet, including the spaces between your toes and the soles. Using your hand mirror, examine the back of your neck and scalp, while lifting and parting your hair. Finally, using the hand mirror, examine your buttocks. In addition to regular self skin exams, you should also have a skin exam by your primary care physician or a dermatologist each year.

To prevent skin cancer, understand the risk factors. These include sun exposure, use of indoor tanning devices, age, prior skin cancer or family history, and other health conditions. Using sunscreen and limiting exposure to the sun during peak sun hours (10am and 4pm) by seeking shade and avoiding direct sun are the easiest ways to help prevent skin cancer. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that filters both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays and offers a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher every day, even in the winter and on cloudy days. Apply liberally and reapply every two hours. In addition, wearing sunglasses with 100 percent UV protection, as well as a wide-brimmed hat, is recommended.

May is Melanoma Awareness Month!  In conjunction with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, dermatologists from the BWH Department of Dermatology will provide free full-body skin exams to detect sun-related damage and screen for skin cancers.

More information about skin cancer, including melanoma:

– Jessica F.

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