May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month. If you haven’t already, it’s a good time to make an appointment to have your skin and moles examined by a doctor. Looking over your skin yourself is also an important first step in detecting, removing, and repairing the damage caused by the cancer. Take the time to take a look at your skin, making note of any problem areas. If you see something suspicious, make an appointment to follow up with your doctor.

A Few Facts About Skin Cancer

There are a lot of misconceptions out there when it comes to skin cancer. Some people think that you can only get skin cancer if you’re fair- or light-skinned and if you spend a lot of time in the sun. In fact, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the country. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, about 3.5 million skin cancers are diagnosed each year. It occurs in about 20 percent of the population.

You can develop skin cancer if you are light-skinned, medium-complexioned, or dark-skinned. Tumors can develop on any area of the skin, including places that rarely or never see the light of the sun.

The sooner you spot and treat skin cancer the better. In the majority of cases, if the cancer is removed before it spreads to other parts of the body, it’s curable. Melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer, is actually the least common. The most common type is basal cell carcinoma. Basal cell carcinoma isn’t usually deadly, but it does cause severe disfigurement if not removed quickly.

While rates for melanoma are on the rise, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, so are survival rates. Between 2000 and 2009, the number of cases of melanoma went up by nearly 2 percent each year. Back in the 1950s, the survival rate for people with melanoma was just 49 percent. Between 1996 and 2003, it was 92 percent.

What to Look For

According to the “Today Show,” the first Monday in May is “Melanoma Monday,” an ideal time to perform a self-check. If you missed “Melanoma Monday,” it’s not too late to give yourself a quick exam or to schedule an appointment if you find something amiss.

What to look for specifically depends on the type of cancer. If you’re on the look out for melanoma, you can use the handy mnemonic “ABCDE.”

  • “A” stands for asymmetry, or a mole or lesion that can’t be divided in half equally.
  • “B” stands for border, meaning the edges of the mole are ragged or uneven.
  • “C” stands for color. Usually, melanomas are varying colors, such as black and brown. Some can be blue or red.
  • “D” stands for diameter, or the size of the mole. Melanomas tend to be wider than 1/4 inches.
  • Finally, “E” stands for evolving, meaning the mole is changing in size, shape or color over time.

The warning signs of basal cell carcinoma are a bit different than for melanoma. A basal cell cancer is usually red or pink in color and can look like an open sore. In some cases, the tumor can look like a raised bump, a growth or a scar. While you should be on the lookout for any such changes, only a doctor can diagnose the cancer with any certainty.

Preventing Skin Cancer

While sun exposure doesn’t cause every type of skin cancer, it is connected to about 90 percent of cases, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. You can drastically reduce your risk of developing cancer by avoiding the sun during the late morning and afternoon and by always wearing sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15. It’s also a good idea to steer clear of tanning booths, as the UV rays used in those booths increase your risk for skin cancer.

What to Do If You Find Something Suspicious

If you see a mole or other marking that looks like it fits the description for skin cancer, the best thing to do is see a doctor right away. Usually, the first line of treatment involves cutting away the cancer. Depending on the size of the cancer and how deeply embedded it is in the skin, the excision might result in a large gaping area or damage to the soft tissue.  Reconstructive surgery can help repair any damage from removing the tumor and restore your skin to the way it looked pre-cancer.

To learn more about reconstructive surgery after skin cancer in the Virginia Beach area, contact Dr. Kyle Choe at The Choe Center. He’s available to answer any questions you might have about the procedure and what to expect. To schedule an appointment, call The Choe Center at 757.389.5850 today.