Warning signs of skin cancer: 5 things to know and when to seek medical help

BOSTON — With the Memorial Day holiday kicking off the unofficial start of summer, it’s time to think about sun safety.

“May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, and as a dermatologist who specializes in skin cancer treatment, I want you to be able to identify the warning signs of skin cancer, know when to seek medical advice, and understand how to protect your skin from sun damage,” said Dr. Abigail Waldman, Director of the Mohs and Dermatologic Surgery Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Dr Waldman spoke with Boston 25 about five key things to know about skin cancer:

♦ Skin cancer, which includes melanoma as well as non-melanoma skin cancer, is one of the most common types of cancer, with more than 5 million people diagnosed each year in the United States alone.

♦ While anyone can get skin cancer, those with fair skin, light-colored eyes, and a history of sunburns or excessive sun exposure, and a family history of skin cancer are more at risk. Also, people with weakened immune systems, such as those who have undergone an organ transplant, are at increased risk of developing skin cancer.

♦ The warning signs of skin cancer include changes in the size, shape, or color of a mole or spot on the skin, or the appearance of a new growth. It is also important to be aware of any spots or moles that bleed, itch, or do not heal over the course of 6-8 weeks. These should be brought to the attention of your doctor or dermatologist who may decide to perform a skin biopsy where a small piece of skin is removed under local anesthesia and sent for analysis.

♦ The best way to prevent skin cancer is to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays. This can be done by wearing protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts, hats, and sunglasses, and by using sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher applied every 2 hours. It is also important to avoid tanning beds, as they can increase your risk of developing skin cancer.

♦ How can you screen for skin cancer? You can check your own skin regularly for any changing and new lesions. Taking photos can help monitor lesions for change. If you have a family history of skin cancer or have significant sun exposure history, you should schedule a baseline screening with a dermatologist and they may recommend regular screenings thereafter. If you have a personal history of skin cancer, your skin should be checked one or more times per year depending on your personal history.

Brigham and Women’s Hospital has a collaboration with Dana Farber Brigham Cancer Center that involves free skin cancer screenings at local DCR beaches this summer.

You can find the schedule for the free screenings here:

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