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    May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, so we’re here to talk about skin cancer in women. Skin cancer is a serious condition, so it’s important to talk to your women’s health care provider about your risk factors, prevention strategies, and other specifics for your situation. Here’s some general information to help you learn more about skin cancer. 

    What is Skin Cancer?

    First off, what is skin cancer? Skin cancer is essentially where damaged DNA causes a mutation that triggers an abnormal and out-of-control growth of your skin cells. Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers world-wide, and about 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer before they turn 70. 

    The problem with skin cancer is that it can spread to other parts of the body, like nearby lymph nodes or even other organs. Most skin cancers are easily treatable in the early stages, yet more than two people every hour die of skin cancer according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

    There are three main types of skin cancers: basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and melanoma. Most people know melanoma as the most deadly type of skin cancer, but it’s important to know that all three types are serious and should be addressed by a medical professional.

    Talk to your Women’s Health Care Provider About Your Risks

    Anyone can get skin cancer, but there are some factors that may increase your risk, including:

    • Fair skin
    • Red or blonde hair
    • History of sun exposure and sunburns
    • A large number of moles on your body
    • Family history of skin cancer
    • Indoor tanning
    woman wearing sun hat and sun glasses after women's health care provider told her about skin cancer risks

    Talk to your women’s health care provider about how you can protect your skin from harmful UV radiation.

    Most skin cancers are associated with UV radiation, like from sun tanning, a lot of sun exposure throughout your life, and using indoor tanning devices. Remember, five or more sunburns in your life doubles your risk for melanoma

    It’s a common misconception that tanning is a sign of being healthy. However, many people don’t realize what a tan really is. When you tan, UV radiation starts to damage the DNA in your cells. In response, your body sends pigmented cells to the upper layers of your skin to help protect your DNA from even further damage. So, tanning is a serious issue that may increase your risk for skin cancer. 

    What’s more, indoor tanning may be even worse than lying out in the sun. Indoor tanning devices can put out 10 to 15 times higher UV radiation than the sun. Therefore, it’s important to keep this in mind as you think about your skin cancer risks. 

    Women of Color Can Get Skin Cancer, too!

    Now, fair skin is one of the things that can increase your risk for developing skin cancer. However, that doesn’t mean women of color aren’t at risk! While fewer women of color develop skin cancer, it’s often more deadly for people of color, as it’s often diagnosed in late stages. 

    Skin cancer in women of color may appear in areas that don’t get very much sun exposure. For instance, the sole of the foot is one of the most common areas for skin cancer in people of color, happening in about 30-40% of cases. Also more cases of melanoma, one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer, develop in the palms, soles of feet, and nailbeds in people of color.

    Therefore, it’s important for everyone to take steps to prevent skin cancer and help with early detection. 

    Women’s Health Care Tips for Skin Cancer Prevention

    There are some things you can do to help reduce your risk for skin cancer. Talk to your women’s health care provider about the specifics of your situation. However, sun protection is a great place to start to help reduce UV rays that may cause skin cancer. 

    First, wear sunscreen every day, preferably SPF 30 or higher. This can help reduce the amount of UV radiation that your skin absorbs. So, make sure you apply it every day, even if it’s cloudy. Also, don’t forget to apply it to commonly forgotten areas like the lips, ears, and scalp and to reapply every two hours. 

    If you need another reason to wear sunscreen, daily use of SPF 15 or higher is associated with 24% less skin aging, so it may help you look younger in the long-run, too. 

    Here are some other important sun protection tips:

    • Wear clothing that covers your skin to protect it from UV radiation
    • Stay in the shade
    • Wear a wide-brimmed hat 
    • Use sunglasses

    When possible, try to avoid being outside during peak sun hours, which are between 10 A.M. and 2 P.M. This is when UV radiation is typically at its strongest. 

    How to do a Self-Exam for Skin Cancer

    In addition to getting regular checkups at your women’s health clinic, it’s also important to do a self-exam to check for signs of skin cancer. Self-exams can help you detect potential signs of skin cancer and address them with a doctor. This may help with early detection. 

    You’ll need a full-length mirror and either a partner or a hand mirror for the self-exam. You’ll need to remove your clothes so you can look at all of your skin.

    Start by looking at your body in the full-length mirror. Be sure to check every area of skin that you can in the mirror, such as your underarms, palms, arms, legs, etc. Also, look in areas that don’t get a lot of sun, such as between your fingers and toes, your nail beds, the soles of your feet, and even your groin area. You want to check head-to-toe for any signs of skin cancer because it can develop anywhere on your skin. 

    You’ll also need to look at your back, neck, buttocks, and scalp. Here is where you’ll either need someone else to help you or to use a hand mirror for these hard-to-see areas. 

    If you notice anything abnormal, talk to your women’s health care provider. Also, keep in mind that skin cancer self-exams are supposed to help supplement your regular health exams, not replace them, so make sure you’re getting your recommended checkups. 

    Signs of Potential Skin Cancer

    Skin cancer typically appears as an abnormal skin lesion or mole. During your self-exams, keep A,B,C,D,E in mind:

    • Asymmetry: Asymmetrical moles
    • Border: Moles that have an irregular or jagged border
    • Colors: Moles that have more than one color 
    • Diameter: Moles that are bigger than a pencil eraser
    • Evolution: Moles or skin patches that change, grow, hurt, or bleed

    Some other things to look out for are sores that won’t heal, sores that heal and return, dry or rough patches of skin, and dark lines under finger and toe nails. Essentially, you’re looking for anything on your skin that looks abnormal.

    Age Spots vs. Skin Cancer

    A common question women have is what the difference between an age spot and skin cancer is. Age spots, also known as sun spots and liver spots, are areas of skin damage from years of sun exposure. Age spots are typically a cosmetic issue and don’t need any treatment. There are a few different types, but the most common one are darker areas on your skin. As such, they can look a lot like some types of skin cancer, like melanoma. Generally speaking, if anything new appears on your skin, it’s better to be safe than sorry and get it looked at by a doctor, especially if it fits the ABCDE rule. It’s usually best not to assume anything is an age spot and delay treatment if it could be skin cancer.

    Quality Women’s Health Care at HerKare

    Looking for a women’s health clinic that offers individualized, quality care? Our team at HerKare is here to help. We’re a women’s clinic operated by women for women. We take time to listen, understand your concerns, and then help provide personalized treatment solutions. Whether you’re having symptoms of a health condition or need a well woman exam, we’re here for you. Book your appointment online today!