Don’t put off skin cancer screenings

Contributor: Dr. Susan Oldenkamp, KVH Dermatology

It seems unusual to be writing about skin cancer in November, but 2020 has been an unusual year! When the COVID-19 epidemic first hit, we advised patients to postpone non-essential visits to the clinic, but now that we have effective safety measures in place at KVH, we have resumed regular skin cancer screenings.

Who should be screened? First, anyone with a family history of malignant melanoma, and those with a large number of atypical moles, should be screened on a regular basis. Second, anyone with a personal history of skin cancer should be screened. In addition, anyone with a history of precancerous lesions, called actinic keratosis, needs to be screened. Regular skin cancer screening helps us catch skin cancers early, when they are the smallest and most easily treated.

Even if you don’t receive regular skin cancer screenings, there are some things you should watch for. A flesh colored, or translucent bump that bleeds and does not heal may be a basal cell carcinoma. A thickened, red, scaly patch which persists, and may bleed, can be a sign of squamous cell carcinoma. These two types of skin cancer, sometimes lumped together and called ‘non-melanoma skin cancer’, almost always occur on chronically sun-exposed skin. They are not usually life threatening, but will continue to get larger until they are removed.

When evaluating a pigmented spot or ‘mole’, look for the ABCDEs. A is for asymmetry, B for irregular borders, C for more than one color, and D for diameter greater than 6mm, the size of a pencil eraser. More recently, E was added, E is for ‘evolving’ or changing. Any pigmented spot that changes should be pointed out to your PCP or dermatologist. You may also hear the term ‘ugly duckling’. This refers to a spot that stands out as different from your other pigmented spots. Melanoma can occur anywhere on the skin. It is a serious type of cancer, and it is important to diagnose and treat it as early as possible.

Although we need to continue to remain vigilant to prevent the spread of COVID, we can and should attend to our other health needs as well, including taking care of our skin.