Wow, I can’t believe it’s been a year since I first opened up about my experience with Melanoma (if you want a refresher, you can check out 2019’s article here!).
Last year I was absolutely terrified to share my story, but I was so overwhelmed by all of the outreach I got in the weeks and months after sharing what I went through. So many people DM’ed me to say they scheduled their first skin check ever, and luckily they caught something early enough to have it removed with little consequence. Other people shared incredibly moving stories of loved ones who they’d lost to skin cancer. The truth is melanoma is still a scary disease. It’s the most common of all cancers in the US, and the sad statistics tell us that 1 in 5 people will be diagnosed in their lifetime.
May is Melanoma Awareness month, so I wanted to share a quick update on where I am in my journey today. The good news is that in the last year, I am still melanoma free, confirmed by my twice-annual skin exams with my dermatologist. I feel incredibly grateful that nothing new has popped up, but I know I need to continue being diligent about sun protection for the rest of my life. For me, this means staying out of direct sunlight, wearing SPF daily, and keeping my skin covered with cover-ups and hats in warmer months.
I want to encourage everyone reading this to PLEASE schedule a skin check with your dermatologist. Lately many of us are avoiding nonessential trips to the doctor’s office, but the good news is many practices are offering virtual consultations online. You can also do a self-check at home. It’s quick, painless, and it could save your life.
How to Check Your Moles at Home
We consulted Dr. Anne Chapas, the Medical Director of Union Square Laser Dermatology, for a step-by-step guide on how to check your moles from home. Read on for her guide and expert recommendations:
Dr. Chapas, can you walk us through an at-home mole check?
About one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, but the good news is that skin cancers found early are almost always curable. I recommend that everyone takes a look at their own skin once a month. If you notice any new spots on your skin, spots that are different from others, or spots that are changing, itching or bleeding, make an appointment to see a board-certified dermatologist.
I recommend a strategy called the ABCDE’s to help people remember the warning signs of melanoma:
A- Asymmetry; one side looking different than the other
B- Border changes; an irregular and uneven border
C- Color changes; having a variety of different colors
D- Diameter; bigger than a pencil eraser
E- Evolving; any change in size, shape, color, elevation
The American Academy of Dermatology offers a helpful step-by-step guide for the logistics of a self-exam:
- Examine your body front and back in a full-length mirror in good lighting.
- Then look at the right and left sides with your arms raised.
- Look at your underarms, forearms, and palms. Bend elbows and look carefully at forearms, underarms, and palms.
- Look at your legs, between toes, and soles of your feet.
- Use a hand mirror to examine your neck and scalp. Examine the back of your neck and scalp with a hand mirror. Part hair for a closer look.
- Use a hand mirror to check your back and buttocks. Finally, check your back and buttocks with a hand mirror.
This is a helpful mole tracker guide to print so that you can keep track of how your moles progress over the year and see examples of questionable spots that need to be checked by a dermatologist.
Do you have any other advice on how to prevent melanoma and skin cancer?
Everyone should wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher, and re-apply regularly as instructed. Sunscreen is an important part of a comprehensive skincare program, but it’s not the only step. It’s important to protect yourself in other ways, such as using sun-protective clothing, and it’s also good to limit the number of sun activities you do during peak times, which in the Northeast tends to be between 11 am – 3 pm. Sun exposure is the most preventable risk factor for all skin cancers.
It’s important to establish good sun habits when you’re young. A recent study published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, suggests that experiencing five or more sunburns between the ages of 15 and 20 could increase melanoma risk by 80 percent.
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