Beauty marks, moles and other growths…when is it time to get your body fully checked for skin cancer?

The #1 form of cancer in women 25-29 is NOT breast or cervical cancer – it is MELANOMA SKIN CANCER

Now that I have your attention, this month’s blog is dedicated to beauty marks, moles and other body growths – when and how you should have them checked. Being a Fellowship- trained surgeon, I chose to focus my practice on skin cancer and cosmetic procedures.

First and foremost – toss out the idea that a body check is just for those over the age of 50. Everyone should get a body check by a board-certified dermatologist once a year at minimum. If you have exposure to the sun, you are a candidate to have a body screening – young or old. I recommend my patients to start coming in as early as 18 to have this routine non-invasive screening performed.  In addition, the pediatrician should be checking annually before that.  Any suspicious lesions – either to you, the patient, or the primary care physician should be evaluated by a dermatologist.  If you have a family history of melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, you should be seen 2-4 times a year. Those who in are in high sun exposure jobs (landscaping/construction/lifeguarding) or live in the sun-belt states should be on special alert. Any beauty mark/mole that bleeds, scabs, or crusts, or for that matter, changes at all needs immediate attention, and in almost all cases, a biopsy to rule out melanoma.

Additional risk factors include:  Blonde/red hair, blue or green eyes, an increase number of normal appearing freckles and moles, history of sunburns, and again family history.

In the case of children, I sadly report that melanoma is on the rise; therefore pediatrician check-ups should include skin checks at an early age – especially for those with large outdoor exposure and/or the above risk factors.

It is prudent to do self examinations, on a monthly basis if you are at high risk.  The A,B,C,D rule is worthy of mention.  You should be on the lookout for moles that are Asymmetrical, have changing of irregular Borders, dark or multiple or changing Colors, and/or a Diameter greater than 5-6mm – about the size of a pencil eraser.

The above paragraphs were primarily dedicated to Melanoma.  There are well over a million Basal and Squamous Cell Carcinomas diagnosed each year.  As a patient, you should be concerned about any scabbing or crusting lesion that bleeds or does not heal or go away.  Be especially concerned about rapidly growing lesions.  Basal Cell cancers are often shiny or pearly.

The key with skin cancer is early detection and proper treatment. If it is found quickly enough, it can often be removed without an impact on survival and minimal cosmetic repercussions. If not diagnosed in time a patient can get into serious trouble and die. In addition to scheduled skin screenings, avoiding and minimizing exposure to the sun are important factors in protecting yourself from skin cancer.  A hat, sunglasses, and other sun-protective clothing should become part of your routine.  Keep an eye out for our next blog regarding skin cancer treatments.

Lastly, I want to touch on sunscreen again in my blog.  In order to prevent photoaging and skin cancers, an SPF of at least 15 should be worn everyday, even walking the streets of Manhattan in the winter.   Did you know that the sun intensity on the Rocky Mountains is the same as South Beach in Florida? That’s something to remember this season.  For more information regarding sunscreens, check out the entry “Sunscreens 101” in my blog.


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