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Sharp Health News

Checking your skin can save your life

May 22, 2020

Skin cancer checks

Summer’s here and it’s time to head outdoors to play in the sun. But with COVID-19 restrictions still looming, many people are hunkered down at home with their skin not seeing the light of day.

According to Dr. Mona Mofid, a board-certified dermatologist affiliated with Sharp Grossmont Hospital, although we’re stuck inside, we should still be checking our skin on a regular basis for irregularities or changes that could signal skin cancer.

“We know our bodies best and are more likely to notice changes, new growths or if something doesn’t seem right on our skin,” says Dr. Mofid.

“Skin cancer isn’t waiting for COVID-19 to pass. One person dies in this country every hour from skin cancer — but if it’s found early, it’s likely to be cured.”

She says everyone should check their skin once a month for signs of skin cancer, which affects 1 in 5 Americans. In 2020, more than 196,000 people will be diagnosed with melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer. If detected early, however, the five-year survival rate is 99%.

“Self-exams are easy to do and can save your life,” says Dr. Mofid.

What to look for
Not all skin cancers look the same. The American Cancer Society says skin cancers can show up in many shapes and sizes.

For example, the first symptom of a melanoma is usually the appearance of a new spot, or a change in an existing freckle or mole. The change may be in size, shape or color, and is normally noticed over several weeks or months.

Other common things to look for:

  • A new, expanding or changing growth, spot or bump on the skin
  • A sore that bleeds or doesn’t heal after several weeks
  • A rough or scaly red patch, which might crust or bleed
  • A wart-like growth
  • A mole with an odd shape, irregular borders or areas of different colors

“Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer. They’re typically found on parts of the body that get direct sunlight, but there are some less obvious places it hides,” says Dr. Mofid.

Hiding spots can include the scalp, feet and toes, ears, eyelids, behind a tattoo or birthmark, and under the nails.

Where to look
The best time to do a skin self-exam is after a shower because you’re already undressed. You need good lighting and a full-length mirror, but a handheld mirror will work fine too. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, use the mirrors to look over these areas:

  • Check your front and back sides, then check the right and left sides of your body with arms raised.
  • Check the bend in your elbows, forearms, underarms and palms.
  • Look at the backs of your legs and feet. Take a seat and inspect the spaces between your toes, and the soles of your feet.
  • It’s helpful to have a hand mirror as well as a mirror in front of you to check your neck and scalp. Be sure to inspect the part in your hair.
  • To check your back, use a handheld mirror and a full-length or bathroom mirror in front of you, or ask a family member to help.
  • Finally, you want to check where the sun doesn’t shine: Yes, skin cancer can occur on your buttocks.

See something, say something
If you detect something suspicious, don’t wait. Even with stay-at-home restrictions, you can still consult a health care provider if you have any concerns.

There are options for in-office visits as well as virtual visits. Virtual platforms, such as Doxy.me, can help with the diagnosis of suspicious irregularities, rashes and other skin conditions; patients with concerns can securely share images with their doctor.

“The most important thing is to contact your provider to get early care and to be guided on the best course of action appropriate for you to stay healthy,” says Dr. Mofid.

For the news media: To talk with Dr. Mona Mofid about skin cancer for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at erica.carlson@sharp.com.

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