12 Ways to Protect Your Skin and Prevent Skin Cancer
8. Like children, skin cancers don't always follow rules: The ABCDE
rules for melanoma have been well publicized, but not all melanomas conform.
One type, amelanotic melanoma, for example, has no brown or black. Another
kind, nodular melanoma, is often symmetrical, with fairly regular borders and
few colors, says David Polsky, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of dermatology
and pathology at NYU Medical Center. And invasive melanomas can be smaller than
six millimeters — the guideline in the ABCDE rules. The rule for you: Don't
dismiss an odd-looking or changing mole because it doesn't resemble the
textbook example; show it to a dermatologist.
9. If you're dark skinned, skin cancer is far less common — and far more
likely to be fatal: No one's sure why, but among African Americans, Asians,
and Hispanics, UV radiation does not play as strong a role in squamous cell
carcinoma and melanoma as it does in Caucasians, says Hugh Gloster, M.D.,
associate professor of dermatology at the University of Cincinnati. He has
found that non-Caucasians are far more likely to develop melanoma on the soles
of the feet and palms of the hands than on areas that are more heavily
sun-exposed like the face and chest. That and the likelihood that doctors
aren't looking for skin cancer among dark-skinned patients means the disease
may be diagnosed at a later, more dangerous stage, say experts. Since UV rays
do play a part in all skin cancers, and basal cell is an equal-opportunity
enemy, people of all skin shades need to protect themselves in the sun.
10. You really can get skin cancer where the sun don't shine: The
same human papillomavirus (HPV) that's responsible for cervical cancer can
cause squamous cell carcinoma of the genitals. While squamous cell growths have
at least a 95 percent cure rate overall, those in the genital region tend to be
found later, which lowers your odds of survival, says Martin A. Weinstock,
M.D., Ph.D., professor of dermatology and community health at Brown University.
In a recent review of national mortality records, he found that non-melanoma
skin cancers on the genitals, though much rarer than those on other parts of
the body, caused about as many deaths. Women were particularly vulnerable;
roughly three times as many females as males died of this cancer. Be sure to
check the genital area when doing your monthly skin exam, advises Dr.
Weinstock. If anything looks suspicious, show a dermatologist.
11. Your husband may not be much help around the house, but when it comes
to skin cancer, he could be a lifesaver: Working with a partner
significantly ups the regularity of skin exams, reports June K. Robinson, M.D.,
professor of clinical dermatology at Northwestern University's Feinberg School
of Medicine. And that could make all the difference: Previous studies have
found that melanoma deaths could be lowered by as much as 63 percent if people
performed monthly self-exams.