If my allergies indicate anything, spring is in full force here in Southern California and summer is peeking around the corner. Everything is blooming, buzzing, and heating up. Over the weekend, the co-housing community I live in held its annual spring clean retreat. We have 3 retreats a year and the theme for our spring retreat is deep cleaning. Working alongside great neighbors is the only way cleaning is fun in my opinion.
For someone who works indoors in a dimly lit room, a spring clean day can present the opportunity for an accidental tan. Tanning is the old fashioned term for exposure to ultraviolet radiation. It does sound better. In the relatively short span of my lifetime to date, Americans have gone from sun-foolish to sun-phobic as we’ve learned of the ill affects of ultraviolet radiation. In all things there must be a balance, for we do, in fact, need the sun’s rays for our health. But, having said that, we must also be sure to protect ourselves and our kids from overexposure. This post won’t be about sunscreen products, although I’ve provided a link for more info on sunscreen below. Rather, it will be about skin cancer awareness and what to look for on our skin. Massage therapists are in a great position to aid people in keeping an eye on the skin as we see quite a lot of it. I have asked clients on several occasions about a spot I noticed or encouraged them to get something checked out if it looked suspicious.
So, what do we look for when we scan the body for skin cancer? Here are some pointers:
Sores on the skin that do not heal. This is very important. Sores that don’t heal are a big indicator of precancerous lesions, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Often a crust or scab forms, flakes off and forms again. But the sore never fully heals. This is a very important warming sign that should be brought to the attention of a doctor immediately. While basal cell carcinoma does not metastasize, squamous cell carcinoma does. The longer it is undiagnosed, the greater chance the cancer has of penetrating to deeper layers of the skin and reaching the lymphatic system where it can travel to other parts of the body. Don’t mess around with this!
Another type of skin cancer is malignant melanoma. It is the least common of skin cancers, but is responsible for 75% of the deaths associated with skin cancer. It can metastasize and can do so quickly. Here are some things to look for:
A = Asymmetry: the mole or spot is not symmetrical.
B = Border irregularity: the mole or spot has an irregularly shaped border or an indistinct border, blending in with the skin.
C = Color: the mole or spot has more than one shade or color. Colors can be black, brown, tan white, red, purple or even blue.
D = Diameter: the mole or spot is larger than the size of a pencil eraser.
E = Elevated: the mole or spot is elevated or partially elevated compared to the surrounding skin.
There’s another guideline called “the ugly duckling,” meaning that some melanomas don’t follow the standard ABCDE categorization but are different compared to the person’s other moles. My husband chimed in that these could be labeled F for Freaky! These “ugly ducklings” should also be examined by a doctor.
There is much more to skin cancer awareness. But these are some basic things to look for. Scanning yourself and other family members regularly is a great way to keep an eye on things that can be further investigated by a dermatologist. When in doubt, get it checked out by the doctor. As with other cancers, early detection and treatment is very important. Exposure to the sun has a cumulative effect, with lots of exposure occurring when we are kids. Kids should play outside. Let’s make sure they are protected. One resource I read for this post stated that melanomas rarely occur in young people, so any large moles that develop after adolescence are highly suspect.
Here are some resources for further information:
Here’s an interesting website I found with an article on sunscreen products:
So, with that, please enjoy the sun responsibly. Happy spring!
Note: Information offered in this blog should not be construed as individual medical advice. Please see your doctor with any questions you have about skin cancer and all other medical/health issues. Cancer is a huge topic; this post offers basic, introductory information and should not be seen as a definitive treatment of the topic. I referred to the following text for some of the information presented here: Werner, Ruth, A Massage Therapist’s Guide to Pathology, Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, 1998.