Your guide to the prevention and detection of skin cancer

With spring’s arrival comes more frequent exposure to the sun’s harmful rays. Don’t let the warm weather put you at an increased risk for skin cancer. Reduce your chances of developing this scary disease with the help of this simple guide.

Woman applying sunscreen

Prevention

Unlike many other forms of cancer, skin cancer is far more related to external factors than it is to heredity. Nothing affects your chances of developing the disease quite like sun exposure. Although some characteristics, such as pale skin, freckling and red or fair hair, may indicate a person is more prone to developing the disease, he or she can greatly decrease those risks by limiting time spent in the sun. It is those areas of the body that are exposed to the sun’s rays over many years, such as the arms, shoulders, face and scalp, that are most at risk.

So how does one go about decreasing one’s chances of developing this disease? Wearing a sunscreen that is SPF 30 or higher on a daily basis during the warm months is a good place to start. If you know you will be outdoors for an extended period of time, aim to cover up as much as possible. Long-sleeved shirts, full-length dresses, hats and sunglasses are your best friends. If you really want to show some skin, make sure to slather on the sunscreen thoroughly and reapply every two hours.

Detection

The most efficient way to detect skin cancer in its early stages is by checking your moles regularly. When you do so, follow the simple format of A-B-C-D-E.

A is for asymmetric, meaning the mole does not bear the same shape if split down the middle and folded on top of itself. B indicates border. Take a look at whether the outline of the mole is irregular. C represents colour. Changes of hue within the mole itself, such as dark patches or light spots, are important to note. D is for diameter. Keep an eye on whether the mole is more than 6 millimetres in size. E is for two items: enlargement and elevation. Check your mole regularly to see if it is elevated above the natural level of the skin, and examine whether it is growing in size.

It’s important to note that a mole with one of these traits does not immediately indicate cancer. It is when a mole starts to exhibit several of these characteristics that it may be worrisome. But there’s no need to worry about making that decision on your own. If you have a mole that seems to fit some of the qualities of A-B-C-D-E, have your doctor take a look. And to increase chances of early detection, make sure you schedule a yearly physical with your family doctor so he or she can take a look at any moles you have to ensure they are normal.

And most important, when in doubt, ask! Nothing is gained by ignoring a potentially dangerous skin abnormality, so don’t be afraid to seek the guidance of a medical professional. Doing so will ensure your health and your mental well-being.

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