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What is Your Skin Trying to Tell You?

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Over the past three decades, more people have had skin cancer than all other cancers combined. The sooner skin cancer is diagnosed and treated, the greater the likelihood of a cure. An estimated one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).

Melanoma is one of the most common cancers to strike people younger than age 30. It accounts for only one percent of all skin cancers but causes a large majority of skin cancer deaths. The American Cancer Society’s estimates that about 87,110 new melanomas will be diagnosed in 2017.

Healthy Habits and Early Detection Can Save your Skin

There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. Cumulative sun exposure is a major risk factor for developing the first two types of skin cancer. But acute sunburns are often linked to melanoma. Know how recognize the early signs of skin cancer, how it is treated and what you can do to help protect your skin.

Self-Check for Moles

Anyone who has ever had a sunburn is at risk for melanoma, but genetics also play a part. People who are fair skinned or have a family history must be more alert about changes in to their skin.

“Regardless of their personal risk, San Diegans should be watching for atypical moles, which tend to be multicolored and asymmetrical,” said Hubert Greenway, M.D., chairman of Mohs and dermatologic surgery at Scripps Clinic. “Problem moles are usually located on the head, neck, upper back, torso or lower legs but can be found anywhere on the skin.”

Moles should be self-checked monthly. If one is darker, itchy, has ragged borders or appears to be changing, see a dermatologist. Even without symptoms, visit a dermatologist once a year for a thorough exam.

Prevent Sunburns and Protect Your Skin

In sunny Southern California, 30 SPF (Sun Protection Factor) sunscreen, or higher, should be a daily ritual. Wear wide-brimmed hats to keep sunlight off the head and neck, and sunglasses to protect your eyes and surrounding skin.

“Tanning beds should be avoided. They raise the risk of melanoma and also dry the skin, causing wrinkles and premature aging,” said Dr. Greenway. “Good fluid intake and using moisturizers provides adequate hydration to protect the skin.”

Watch out for reflected light from water, sand or snow, which intensify the sun’s rays. In addition, try to stay out of the sun during the most intense hours, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Get Treatment Sooner than Later

The earlier melanoma is found, the easier it is to treat. Once the disease has spread, it becomes a serious problem.

“In its earliest stages, melanoma is removed surgically. If it spreads to the lymph nodes, other therapies may be required,” said Dr. Greenway. “Advanced melanoma treatment options are limited in terms of their long-term success, but newer drugs and technologies have led to major gains in the quality of care available for melanoma patients.”

The most effective way to beat skin cancer is to prevent it entirely,” said Dr. Greenway. Otherwise, early detection is the best bet. “Monthly self-exams and annual dermatologic checkups can be life-savers.”

To Your Health is brought to you by the physicians and staff of Scripps Health. For more information, or for a physician referral, visit or call 1-800-Scripps.

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