“Am I at risk?” You might ask. Well, unfortunately, yes. Anyone (!) can get skin cancer. No matter the color of your skin and if you get tanned or not. Although there are people more at risk than others, for example, if you have a very pale skin that often burns – nobody is excluded when it comes to skin cancer risk. So let’s see what you can do.
Looking for new spots on your skin
A recent study from researchers in Italy showed that most cases of melanoma (the most deadly form of skin cancer) grew from new spots on the skin. Those can be moles, but also other spots or sores. So it makes sense to look for any new spots that have appeared during or after the summer.
Although this is not something that only happens in the summer, so we hear when discussing this with a top dermatologist.
“The time of year does not discriminate when skin cancer can form”, states Jennifer Haley, a board-certified dermatologist from Arizona.
“Every day, when our bodies are exposed to Ultraviolet Radiation (yes, this is radiation and your skin is exposed if you don’t need a flashlight to see outside!), DNA errors and defects in metabolism occur.
The body has an amazing ability to repair this damage. Especially when someone is young, eats colorful, healthy real foods with lots of antioxidants, reduces stress, and exercises.
“These lifestyle habits allow the body to repair damage from the external environment quite efficiently.
The more UV radiation someone gets and/or if they have an underlying medical condition taking away energy from these repair mechanisms, their body cannot keep up with repairing the DNA damage and skin cancer can potentially form.“
So we can safely say that looking for new spots and moles on your skin is a good idea all year-round.
Spotting any changes that have occurred
Next to new spots, existing ones can be a potential problem as well. When you visit any skin cancer-related resource online, you will find out that the ABCDE-method is widely used as a way to describe certain symptoms. This references to asymmetry, border, color, diameter, and evolution. All signs of possible skin cancer. But most dermatologists agree that the last one (evolution) is the most commonly seen.
Simply put, evolution means that something is changing. In this case that a mole or skin spot is looking different than before. This can happen over the summer but also in other periods of the year, as Dr. Haley already pointed out.
If you see any spots on your skin (maybe moles, but also blemishes, sores, etc) that have been changing recently – like growing bigger, raising, developing a border or different color – make sure to have it checked out. Because when it comes to skin cancer, early detection is crucial. In that case, the most treatment options are available.
Need some examples? See our skin cancer pics.
The privacy and pace of self-checking
So how do you get a skin check?
It’s a question raised by many people. Some of you may go and see your dermatologist on a (bi-)yearly basis for a full skin exam. As that is common in a few countries, or advised by your doctor because of your risk type. But if you don’t do that regularly, what is a logical next step?
Well, it might be easier than you think.
The first step can be to perform a simple self-check to get an instant risk indication.
Apps like SkinVision enable you to take a photo of your skin and receive a risk indication. Just take the photo in the right lighting conditions, and the apps will do the work for you. The best part is that you can do it right now, so no waiting rooms and waiting lists… and from the comfort of your own home. When a risk is indicated, you need to go and see your doctor of course.
High risk? Make this a 3-month routine
As mentioned before, regular skin checks might be advised to people that are considered ‘high risk’. But what does that mean?
What we do know is that only a small portion of the high-risk population is currently being monitored by any health system. So it’s also up to you to be aware of your own risk and to act on it. Basically it can be stated that there are 6 different skin types. This is based on the Fitzpatrick Scale, a scientific model used to establish the skin and risk type.
Image: Light skin type
This scale ranges from 1 (very light skin) to 6 (very dark skin). When you are in category 1, you are at high risk. If you have other characteristics like red hair and more than 50 moles on your body, that risk is even higher.
BUT. Make sure to know that nobody is excluded from skin cancer. Although very dark skin is less responsive to UV exposure from the sun, other factors (like the environment, genetics, etc) also contribute to skin cancer risk. So don’t hold on to heavily to that 1 to 6 scale.
If you are in the high(er) risk group, however, make sure to make self-checks a 3-month routine. Just put in your calendar or use the apps to remind you.
Do it differently on your next holiday
If you have been catching a lot of sun in the summer that is just behind us, this article might scare you a bit. And although that is a good thing (we want you to be aware), that is not the point. But the point is to make you do it differently next time – and make sure to check for any suspicious spots on your skin.
On your next holiday, at least make sure to apply sunscreen every day. Just make it part of your skincare routine. And re-apply every couple of hours. Don’t go tanning just to make your skin go darker (or red), but avoid the sun during peak hours. Seek some shade.
And above all, although we have to wait a while again now… Keep enjoying those lovely summers.