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Spot Skin Cancer with an Annual Exam

By Richard Paluzzi, MD, Primary Care Physician, Virtua Primary Care – Cherry Hill 

Warmer weather is just around the corner, when we’ll be spending more time outside and exposing our skin to the sun’s rays.

But before heading to the beach or pool, it’s a good idea to get a skin exam.

Skin cancer affects more Americans than any other malignancy, but beyond seasonal advice to wear sunscreen, it doesn’t garner much attention. An annual skin exam with a health care provider is a good step toward prevention.

The Myth of a Healthy Glow

For decades, tanned skin has been viewed as a sign of vitality. In fact, a bronze hue is the body’s attempt to protect itself from excessive ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

UV radiation damages the DNA in our skin cells. Over time, the body’s ability to repair this damage can fail. This can cause cells to grow out of control, leading to cancer.

While anyone, regardless of skin color, can get skin cancer, people with fairer skin are more likely to develop it. A history of sunburns also increases your risk.

A change in your skin is the most common sign of skin cancer, including a new growth, a sore that does not heal, or a change in a mole. For melanoma, which is the most serious form of skin cancer, remember the A-B-C-D-Es:

A—Asymmetrical: Does the mole or spot have an irregular shape?
B—Border: Is the border irregular or jagged?
C—Color: Is the color uneven?
D—Diameter: Is the mole or spot larger than a pea?
E—Evolving: Has the spot changed during the last few weeks or months?

From Head to Toe

During an annual skin screening, your health care provider will examine your skin from head to toe, looking for any unusual spots.

Cancer often develops on the scalp, face, neck, arms, legs, chest, or hands. However, it also forms on areas that don’t usually see the light of day, including your palms, beneath your finger and toenails, and your genital area.

The exam can serve as a baseline for comparison from year to year. If there is suspicious mole or lesion, your provider may recommend a biopsy and send the sample for testing.

Stay Skin-Safe

Even though we think of the risk of skin cancer as a summer problem, you are risking exposure at any time of year—even on cloudy days. And snow can reflect harmful UV rays, increasing the exposure.

To best protect yourself:
Wear sunscreen year-round. Use a broad-spectrum formula with an SPF of at least 30. Apply it generously and at least every two hours.
Wear protective clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
Avoid sun during the middle of the day. Stay in the shade or inside.
Check your medications. Some prescription and over-the-counter drugs, such as antibiotics, can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight.

You are your best defense against skin cancer. In between exams, use precautions and check your skin regularly. Report any new growths or other changes to your provider.

Schedule Your Primary Care Appointment Online

Regular visits with your primary care provider are key to maintaining good health. Make an appointment with a Virtua PCP near you online, or call 888-847-8823.

Updated April 18, 2022

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