Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Preventing Skin Cancer

By Brandi M. Seals

Yesterday I had to have a mole removed from my right shoulder blade. I could not say how long it had been there. I never gave it much thought. I was worried about other moles that I have. They were all fine, except the one on my shoulder. I originally made the appointment with the dermatologist for a skin check because somewhere along the line I heard that skin cancer is more prevalent in fair skinned, dark-haired people with red hair in the family.

The mole was removed in a quick doctor's office procedure. Now it is on its way to Texas to be tested. The doctor said it probably was not cancer. It looked more like a dysplastic nevi. That is the term for moles that have irregular cells but are not cancerous.

I do everything I can to protect my skin from the sun. I do not go out without sunscreen if I will be out for more than 5 minutes. I never really thought about protecting myself from skin cancer, I was just trying to avoid burning. I wish my parents had been more protective of me while I grew up. I bet anyone my age wishes the same thing. I grew up when there was sunscreen, but no one really made a big stink about it. It was for avoiding burns, not preventing skin cancer. No one seemed to have skin cancer. It was never talked about. Now things are different.

Everyone is worried about it. People no longer go out baking in baby oil looking for the perfect tan. They slather on SPF 30 sunscreen or higher before heading to the beach. That is a far cry from the SPF 4 I used to use on occasion. Most of the time, I went without sunscreen. I always tanned easily until I turned 15, that is when everything changed. I started to burn all the time and I still do if I do not bring out the sunscreen.

Everyone should make the effort to teach their children how to protect themselves from the sun. That goes much farther than making them wear sunscreen. The age of your child will dictate how much he or she needs to know, but all should be taught to protect themselves.

Whenever you child goes outside, make sure he or she is wearing sunscreen. Try to buy the highest SPF possible. I like SPF 45 or above. The higher the number, the more protection you will receive.

Get your child sunglasses. The sun can damage eyes just as easily as it damages skin. Make sure the glasses protect against UV rays. Generally there are stickers on the lenses when you go shopping that details what the sunglasses can do.

Start skin screening once a month. Do it the same day every month. Look over your child's body. Start at the scalp and work your way down to the toes. The goal is to know when things change. If a new mole starts to grow or one suddenly starts enlarging, you will want to bring it to your doctor's attention. When your child gets old enough, he or she should take over the check. Make sure they look at their feet. It is a commonly overlooked area that can develop skin cancer.

Familiarize yourself with the ABCDs of moles.

A is for Asymmetry. Melanomas tend to be asymmetrical. If you were to draw a line through the middle of the mole both halves would not match.

B is for Border. Look for uneven or notched edges. Common moles have smoother borders.

C is for Color. A single shade of black or brown is common. Varied shades where the color changes within the mole may be the sign of a problem.

D is for Diameter. Melanomas tend to be larger than common moles. Anything larger than the size of a pencil eraser may be suspect.

Any moles that display the characteristics listed in the ABCDs should be looked at by a doctor. You can often find free skin cancer screenings during the year or find a dermatologist in your area to do the quick check. Never hesitate if something seems suspicious. If there is a problem, it is best to find it early on.

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