Overexposure to the sun is now the leading cause of skin cancer, so protecting yourself is more important than ever.
In 1985 President Ronald Reagan was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer that is common but usually not dangerous. Reagan conceded that it was the result of too much sun and too little protection, starting at a young age. In announcements for the
American Dermatology Association, he cautioned, “Think of my nose as a billboard warning people to stay out of the sun, wear protective clothing, and use sunblock.”
In fact, the number of cases of skin cancer has nearly doubled over the last decade, mak-
ing it the most common cancer in the United States. It is estimated that more than half a
million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer each year, and some 9,100 die from it.
Despite the growing numbers, scientists can’t seem to agree on whether the problem stems from the depletion of the ozone layer or simply from an increase in the amount of time we spend basking in the sun. However, they do agree that limiting the body’s exposure to the sun’s dangerous ultraviolet (UV) rays are the only way to prevent skin cancer.
Early detection. Most skin cancers can be treated if caught in time. Get in the habit of examining your body monthly for:
- A persistent patch of irritated skin
- A small growth
- A sore that doesn’t heal but forms a crust and bleeds
- A new mole
- A mole that changes in any way
- A mole that itches or hurts
When you are checking moles, remember the letters “ABCD” to help you to look carefully for the following features:
Asymmetry: A line drawn through the middle of the mole would not create virtually matching halves.
Border: The edges are uneven or unclear. Color: The mole is unusually dark or more than one shade.
Diameter: The mole has a diameter larger than that of a pencil eraser.
Self-test. To perform your own examination you will need a full-length mirror, a hand mirror, and a brightly lit room. Examine your body, front, and back. Raise your arms, and turn to the right and then to the left. Look carefully at your forearms, upper inner arms, and palms. Pay attention to the backs of your legs, the soles of your feet, and the spaces between your toes.
Use the hand mirror to examine the back of your neck and your scalp. You may want to part your hair (or use a blow dryer to lift it) so you can get a better look. Check your back and buttocks as best you can by using both mirrors. Of course, see your doctor immediately if you detect any changes, but also have a dermatologist examine your skin once a year.