Time to get naked!

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Vince Luecke

I took my annual trip to the dermatologist Thursday. The news was good. Nothing suspicious turned up and those reassuring words from Dr. Artis Truett at Owensboro Dermatology erased the anxiety that builds up early each year as my annual skin review nears.

As I’ve written in this space before, I keep a vigilant eye on my skin. I have to. Skin cancer runs in my family and I have other risk factors: blond hair, a light complection and a history of several severe sunburns when I was young. All increase the chances I’ll develop skin cancer at some point in my life.

I do all I can to lessen those odds. Most importantly, I examine my skin each month and do so pretty religiously.

The first Sunday shower of the month is my skin-check time and I twist and turn my torso while gazing into a mirror, examining areas I don’t normally explore, like the soles of my feet, eyelids, the skin between my toes and all those places where the  sun doesn’t shine. You get the picture.

I look for moles that have changed in appearance, rough spots and lesions that weren’t there before.

If I find something new or worrisome – which is about anything new on my skin – I get it checked out.

Skin cancer, in particular melanomas, can pop up anywhere, even in locations that don’t receive a lot of sun. That’s why I check my toes and soles. Nonmelanoma skin cancers, including basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, have the highest incidence rates of any cancers in the U.S. But those cancers aren’t often fatal, although they can be disfiguring.

Not so with melanoma, which is increasingly common and one of the leading cancerous killers of young people. Caught early, melanoma is highly curable, but if it not detected right away, it can spread to other parts of the body.

People with late-stage melanomas have fewer treatment options and a far greater chance of dying from the disease. Thankfully there are new treatments being developed that are giving hope to melanoma patients.

Melanoma is a threat I take seriously and how I wish I could roll back the clock and avoid those serious sunburns I suffered as a child, back when I thought a tan was hip. It took me a while to realize that I would never look like Tarzan, no matter how much time I spent in the sun or how many layers of skin peeled how away.

I didn’t know then that even one blistering sunburn in childhood more than doubles a person’s chances of developing melanoma later in life. It’s too late for me, but it doesn’t have to be for young people.

Parents, protect your children from sunburn.The best defense to reducing skin-cancer risk rates is to protect our skin against the most-damaging effects of the sun. That means making sunscreen applications a must before venturing outdoors for any length of time.  Skin safety also means wearing a hat and covering arms, legs, back and neck when prolonged sun exposure is likely.

Also important is staying familiar with your skin and conducting regular skin checks. Any changes warrant a visit to the doctor, whether a family physician or dermatologist. If it’s cancer, catch it early. Don’t wait until it’s too late.

Most melanomas begin on the surface of the skin but quickly thicken and spread to lymph nodes.

The Skin Cancer Foundation suggests looking for the ABCDEs of melanoma by examining moles and taking note of these signs:
Asymmetry: Look for moles that aren’t symmetrical in shape; if you draw a line through the mole, the two halves don’t match.

Border: The borders of early melanoma tend to be uneven. The margins of most normal moles are far more likely to be even.

Color: Normal moles have a consistent color. Those with a variety of shades of brown, tan or black warrant closer inspection. Melanomas can also be red and blue in color.

Diameter: Melanomas are usually larger in diameter than the size of a standard pencil eraser, about a quarter of an inch.

Evolving: Melanomas change as they grow, shifting in size, shape, color or elevation. Any of these signs, or moles that bleed, itch or show crusting, point to danger.

Check your skin the next time you climb out of the shower or tub. If you see something odd, have it checked out.