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Self-exams crucial to detecting skin cancer early

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By The Staff

Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers, afflicting more than a million Americans each year, a number that is rising rapidly. It is also the easiest to cure, if diagnosed and treated early. When allowed to progress, however, skin cancer can result in disfigurement and even death.

Who Should Do It?

You should. And if you have children, begin teaching them how to at an early age so they can do it themselves by the time they are teens. Coupled with yearly skin exams by a doctor, self-exams are the best way to ensure that you don't become a statistic in the battle against skin cancer.

When To Do It?

Performed regularly, self-examination can alert you to changes in your skin and aid in the early detection of skin cancer. It should be done often enough to become a habit, but not so often as to feel like a bother. For most people, once a month is ideal, but ask your doctor if you should do more frequent checks.

You may find it helpful to have a doctor do a fullbody exam first, to assure you that any existing spots, freckles, or moles are normal or treat any that may not be. After the first few times, self-examination should take no more than 10 minutes – a small investment in what could be a life-saving procedure.

What To Look For?

There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma.

Because each has many different appearances, it is important to know the early warning signs. Look especially for change of any kind. Do not ignore a suspicious spot simply because it does not hurt. Skin cancers may be painless, but dangerous all the same.

If you notice one or more of the warning signs, see a doctor right away, preferably one who specializes in diseases of the skin.

The Warning Signs

• A skin growth that increases in size and appears pearly, translucent, tan, brown, black or multicolored

• A mole, birthmark, beauty mark or any brown spot that changes color, increases in size or thickness, changes in texture, is irregular in outline is bigger than a quarter inch, about the size of a pencil eraser.

• A spot or sore that continues to itch, hurt, crust, scab, erode or bleed

• An open sore that does not heal within three weeks

If You Spot It ...

Don't overlook it. Don't delay. See a physician, preferably one who specializes in diseases of the skin, if you note any change in an existing mole, freckle or spot or if you find a new one with any of the warning signs of skin cancer.

Protection Stops It, Too

About 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun.

• Seek the shade, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Do not burn.

• Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.

• Use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher.

• Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside.

• Reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or sweating.

• Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens should be used on babies over the age of 6 months.

• Examine your skin head-to-toe every month.

• See your physician every year for a skin exam.

• Avoid tanning and UV tanning booths.