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ABCDEs of Skin Cancer

Sabrina Lisk LPN, Southwest Health

You probably know to do monthly breast or testicular checks to feel if there are any new lumps and bumps. But, when did you last really take time to examine all your moles, spots, freckles, and overall skin texture? Everyone has different body marking, so it’s important to know what is normal for you and your skin. You might not know what to look for when doing a skin exam as you do for breast or testicular checks. Please keep reading to learn things to be aware of and how you know when it’s time to schedule an appointment with an expert.

If any of your moles or spots change or one starts itching, bleeding, or growing, you should follow up with your doctor to have the area evaluated as soon as possible. Any one of these changes could mean that your mole is starting to advance to a different stage. This could be anything from mild, moderate, severe, and finally, melanoma. It is easier to treat a mole when it first starts to change, so again, see your doctor if you notice a mole that is beginning to look different. Thinking about skin cancer can be scary, but understanding what to look out for and knowing who to turn to can help make a frightening task a bit more manageable. That’s how the ABCDEs can help! Below is a quick guide to look out for while performing your skin cancer checks.

Asymmetry. Your moles and spots should be relatively well-rounded. If you split a mole in half, the two sides should look similar.

Borders. The border of your moles should look similar to the other side and not irregular or jagged.

Color. Your moles should have a similar color throughout. Look more for multiple colors like blue or gray, as most moles should be brown or tan.

Different. Most people, as stated before, have unique types of moles, which means all the moles look similar. So when performing the skin check, look for areas that are unlike the other moles.

Elevated. Keep an eye on any of your moles that were once flat but now appear to be raised.

It’s essential to pay attention to your skin as most skin cancers come from normal skin that has just received too much sun damage over the years. Checking for skin cancer or abnormal skin features is just as crucial as doing self-examinations.

There are several different forms of skin cancer that you might not be aware of:

Actinic Keratosis. Pre-cancerous areas that feel like dry skin that you can’t moisturize away. Actinic Keratosis left untreated could turn into skin cancer.

Basal Cell Carcinoma. The most common type of skin cancer, especially for elderly males with excessive sun exposure, anyone previously diagnosed with Basal cell carcinoma, those who have had a lot of sunburns, or if you’re fair-skinned, light-haired, with blue eyes.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma. The second most common type of skin cancer is derived from cells in the epidermis layer of the skin. Squamous Cells can be invasive or metaseries. Risk factors for Squamous Cell Carcinoma include:

  • elderly males who had a lot of sun exposure
  • people who have untreated actinic Keratosis (pre-cancerous spots)
  • people with fair-skinned, light-haired, with blue eyes
  • people who smoke
  • people previously diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma
  • people who have had an organ transplant

Melanoma. Cases of melanoma are on the rise due to the popularity of using tanning beds. Just one treatment in a tanning booth raises your risk factor by 20% of developing the condition. Melanoma developed from tanning beds tends to be more aggressive and found in unusual locations like the bottom of the foot. Melanoma is frequently invasive and is considered the skin cancer with the highest risk of a bad outcome. Risk factors for melanoma include:

  • individuals 18 to 30-year-olds with a history of using tanning beds
  • people who previously having melanoma
  • people who previously had a basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma
  • people with multiple abnormal-looking moles
  • people with fair skin that burns quickly

We are starting to feel the warmth of the sun once again, and soon everyone will be running around outside in swimsuits and flip-flops. The best way to protect your future skin from developing skin cancer is to lather up in sunscreen today. Applying sunscreen and wearing protective clothing in the sun is one of the best ways to protect yourself and your family from the sun’s dangerous rays. When used as directed, sunscreen decreases your risk of developing skin cancer. Regular daily use of SPF 15 sunscreen can reduce your risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma by about 40% and melanoma risk by 50%, according to

There are other benefits to continued sunscreen use as well! Applying every day can help prevent premature skin aging caused by the sun. This is what helps contribute to wrinkles, sagging, and age spots. If you don’t know who needs to wear sunscreen for how long, remember the following:

  • Who needs to wear sunscreen? Everyone under the sun.
  • What should I wear? Buy and apply sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher or 30 or higher if outside.
  • When should I apply? You should wear sunscreen every day, apply thirty minutes before going outdoors and reapply every two hours.
  • Why should I wear sunscreen? It reduces your risk of sun damage and skin cancer.

While talking about sunscreen, do you know what SPF even means? SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. This is the number that indicates how long the sun’s UVB rays would take to burn or redden your skin. So if you use an SPF 30, it would like you 30 times longer to burn than if you didn’t use sunscreen at all. Remember that the next time you debate if you need SPF 15 or 30 while at the store.

While sunscreen is a great foundation and a huge part of protecting yourself from the summer rays, it is not the only tool you have. When outside, seek a shaded spot whenever possible, wear sun-safe clothing, stay under a wide-brimmed hat, and wear sunglasses to protect your eyes. Your future self will thank you for the protection you use today.

It is essential to know what to look for and what to do when an area of your skin is beginning to change. Looking at your skin through monthly skin checks and seeing a dermatologist could save your life by catching spots before they become life-threatening. Southwest Health has two full-time dermatologists that would love to give you peace of mind about any moles, spots, or freckles that you are questioning. Give them a call at (608) 342-6285 to schedule an appointment through Southwest Health’s Specialty Clinic.