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Stay on the lookout for signs of melanoma: regular skin self-exams and doctor visits can help you catch melanoma and other skin cancers before they progress.

You look in the mirror while you comb your hair or shave your beard. Now, expand that self-inspection from your face to the rest of your body, using full-length and handheld mirrors. That full-body check is a ritual that you and all men should do periodically to search for skin cancer.

Unfortunately, even people with a history of melanoma skin cancer fail to perform these regular skin self-exams, research suggests. That finding is particularly troubling, as rates of melanoma in men over age 60 are twice as high as those in women, and three times as high in men ages 80 and older, according to the American Cancer Society.

"Even in patients with a history of skin cancer, we definitely see a failure to look at their skin," says Alok Vij, MD, with Cleveland Clinic's Department of Dermatology. "The most important thing with all types of skin cancer is that the earlier you catch it, the easier it is in terms of treatment and the more likely that we'll get a cure."

So, keep an eye on your skin, and have your doctor check you for skin cancer, as well. And, take precautions to protect your skin from the sun's damaging rays.


Skin cancer usually develops in sun-exposed areas of the body, such as the face, backs of the neck and hands, arms, tops of the ears and, in men with thinning hair, the scalp. However, it can develop on almost any part of the body.

Basal cell (the most common form) and squamous cell carcinoma account for approximately 95 percent of all skin cancers. Although it's the least common type of skin cancer, melanoma is the deadliest. The cancer affects the skin's pigment cells (melanocytes) and can spread to the lungs and other organs, where it can be deadly.

Melanoma is difficult to treat once it spreads, so identifying it and removing it early are critical.

But, a study published in the February issue of Melanoma Research found that many people who've had melanoma aren't adequately checking their skin for the cancer. In the study, nearly three-quarters of 176 adults with a history of melanoma said they had performed a self-exam in the past two months, but only about one in seven had thoroughly examined all their skin.

"It's disappointing because whenever we see patients with a history of skin cancer, we try to educate them about the importance of catching it early with good self-examinations," Dr. Vij says. "About 50 percent of the time, patients are the ones who catch their melanomas. The patients are the ones who can catch it earlier."


Perform a skin self-exam once every month or two, Dr. Vij advises. In a quiet, well-lit room, remove your clothing and use a full-length mirror and a handheld mirror to inspect all areas of your body. (See chart for guidance about recognizing skin cancer warning signs.) Recruit your spouse or partner to help you check difficult-to-see areas, such as your scalp or back.

Melanoma originates in the clumps of melanocytes you know as moles. Generally, people who have a total body mole count of more than 50 to 100 moles are at greater risk of melanoma, Dr. Vij says.

A study published in February in the British Journal of Dermatology found that having more than 11 moles on one arm correlated with a total mole count of more than 100.

"A simple count of one extremity gives you an idea of what's happening on the rest of your body," Dr. Vij says. "It's an easy screening tool that a patient or a family practitioner can use to determine whether a patient might be at elevated risk and should be sent to a dermatologist."

If you haven't already, undergo a baseline skin evaluation by a dermatologist, as well as periodic checks by your primary care physician. If you're fair-skinned, have a high sun exposure or have a history of precancerous skin lesions or skin cancer, see a dermatologist more frequently.

Most importantly, Dr. Vij adds, safeguard your skin by following the tips in the "Stay Sun Savvy" chart, and keep on the lookout for skin cancer. "It takes maybe five to 10 minutes to look at all your skin," Dr. Vij says. "It's an easy thing to do at home once a month, and if it prevents a doctor from coming close to your face with a scalpel to remove a skin cancer, it's worth it."



* Basal cell carcinoma: May form as pearly bumps with visible blood vessels, open sores, scaly reddish patches that may bleed, or pink growths with elevated borders.

* Squamous cell carcinoma: Usually develop as round, red, scaly bumps, often with a flat, elevated, plateau-like area; may have clear edges and go from pink to red.

* Melanoma: Follow the ABCDE rule to identify melanoma:


Asymmetry: The shape of one half of the lesion differs from the other.

Border: Edges are often ragged, blurred or irregular, and the pigment may spread into nearby skin.

Color: Uneven color; could be shades of black, brown, tan, white, gray, red or blue.

Diameter: An increase in size, usually larger than 6 millimeters (about a quarter-inch or the diameter of a pencil eraser).

Evolution *: The mole or lesion is changing or evolving.

* Several smart phone apps allow you to take photos of a mole or lesion and track any changes over time.


* Wear sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 40 to 50. Apply sunscreen a half-hour before you go outdoors, and reapply it every two hours that you're outside (more frequently if you're in the water or you sweat a lot). If your hair is thinning, apply sunscreen liquids or sprays to protect your scalp.

* Wear a wide-brimmed hat or other sun-protective clothing outdoors. Look for products with the Skin Cancer Foundation's seal of approval.

* Avoid outdoor activities between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., when the sun's ultraviolet radiation is at its peak.

* Recognize your risk. People with fair complexions, red hair, blue eyes and freckles are at greater risk of skin cancer than those with darker complexions.
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Title Annotation:Cancer
Publication:Men's Health Advisor
Date:May 1, 2016
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