The ABCDEs of skin cancer checks

The summer sun is at its highest angle during the months of June, July and August.  While a summer glow might sound appealing, it is something that could permanently damage your skin - even to the point of being life-threatening.

Over the past two years, 71-year-old Nancy Thibodeaux has noticed some skin discolorations on her face and body.  "Just some little dark spots, what everybody calls 'age spots,'" she said.

These age spots are actually sun spots - flat, brown spots that are the result of years of sun exposure.  It is something Dr. Hilma Lisa Green with Lake Area Pediatrics and Internal Medicine says needs to be watched closely.  "Some of these dark sun spots can be pre-cancerous, and so it's important that older individuals monitor their skin at least once a month," she said.

Keeping an eye on potential problem areas could catch cancer while it is treatable, especially the most deadly form of skin cancer: melanoma.  "We all have lesions and moles are the ones you really want to pay attention to. If they switch into cancer, then they become one of the cancers that's pretty fatal and that's melanoma," said Dr. Green.

A Mayo Clinic study shows today's rate of melanoma was eight times higher among women 18-39 than it was in 1970. Among men it was four times higher.  "We did a lot of gardening back then and being outside, working the yard," said Thibodeaux.

In our society today, many people equate tan skin with beautiful skin. But the reality is that tan skin is actually damaged skin and can lead to a long road of health problems.

Nancy is doing the right thing by now limiting time outdoors, wearing sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher and checking in every few months with Dr. Green.

To watch for signs that could be skin cancer, remember ABCDE: if the lesion is not asymmetric or similar on each side, it is a warning sign. The second is irregular borders, then color, diameter that should be smaller than a pencil eraser and evolving spots.

By keeping your ABCs in check, you could catch cancer in its earliest form - getting you the best treatment and outcome from the beginning.

Dermatologists recommend fair skinned people over 40 with a history of sunburn, or numerous moles get an annual skin check. Family history also raises the risk for melanoma.

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