More people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year, than all other types of cancer combined. If that statistic startles you, it’s time to take a hard look in the mirror – and at your arms, legs, belly and, if you can manage it, back.
Our skin is our largest organ, but too often it goes overlooked when people think about their health. Most of us consider our annual physicals to be a time for checking our blood pressure and cholesterol levels, but annual visits can and should include a look at your skin.
The earlier skin cancer is detected, the more treatable and curable it is. And, unlike any other organ of your body, your skin is easy to see. When it comes to spotting early signs of skin cancer, the American College of Dermatology recommends following the A, B, C, D and E’s:
- Asymmetry. If you see a mole, check to see if both sides look the same. If it’s symmetrical, it’s not as worrisome, but if it’s lopsided, it could be worth further evaluation. Keep in mind that asymmetry does not mean it’s cancer, it just means it’s worth a closer look.
- Border. If the borders of a mole or spot are even, that’s not something we worry about. If the border is fuzzy or not clear, then we get a little more concerned.
- Color. If the spot is all one color, it’s likely benign. If the color or shade of color varies, it could be worth evaluating further .
- Diameter. Size makes a difference. Anything smaller than a ¼-inch is typically not worrisome. If it is larger, or if it starts to grow, talk to your doctor.
- Evolving. If you notice your mole or freckle changing with time – either in shape, size or color – or if starts bleeding, that could be a sign of trouble.
Your primary care physician can and should take your skin health into consideration during your annual visit. But if more specialized help is needed, your physician can refer you to a dermatologist who specializes in skin cancer.
If a higher level of care is required, Hoag has a specialized program offering concentrated expertise in advanced diagnostics, therapeutics and prevention of skin cancer. Physicians can refer patients to the Hoag Melanoma/Advanced Skin Cancer Program for second opinions, surgical consultation through both a surgical oncologist and plastic surgeon, clinical nurse navigation, access to leading clinical trials, and support and resources for the patient and their families.
The program also offers highly specialized care and equipment, including a FotoFinder Automated Total Body Mapping system, which scans the entire skin surface for areas that could potentially develop into melanoma.
As a physician, I remind my patients that they remain the first line of defense in the fight against skin cancer – take a look at your skin and watch for changes, get regular dermatological exams and, of course, wear plenty of sunscreen. I recommend using an SPF 30 or higher with broad spectrum coverage (UVA & UVB). Remember to reapply every few hours as sunscreen degrades and does not last all day. If you can, avoid being in direct sunlight for prolonged periods and stay in the shade when you are outside. Skin cancer is easily treatable when caught early. All you have to remember are your A, B, C, D and E’s.
Dr. Chrystene Nguyen, M.D., is a family medicine physician who works out of the Hoag Medical Group in Costa Mesa.