Keep Guard Up Against Skin Cancer

by Dr. Hojat Askari, Founder & Medical Director, Thumb Butte Medical Center

We’re heading into the winter season, so it’s time to talk about skin cancer.

It’s a topic that’s most often featured in late spring as we’re skipping toward summertime because the intensity of the sun’s UV rays does tend to increase just as we’re spending more time outdoors, but unfortunately that doesn’t mean you can let your guard down once the leaves have fallen.

UV rays reach our skin every day, even when it’s cloudy or rainy. Sun on snow is some of the most damaging sun there is because the snow’s surface reflects and magnifies the rays’ intensity.

We all need to continue our measures to protect ourselves. We cover up with more protective clothing than in warmer weather, which is a good first step, but we still need to liberally apply sunscreen to any skin that will be exposed, including the face, hands, ears, lips, neck and scalp.

Scan yourself to screen

Preventive measures are hugely important in the fight against skin cancer, but we also need to be ready to help with early detection. It’s good to visit a dermatologist at least once a year and examine your skin periodically for any changes in appearance.

Lighter-skinned people have a higher incidence of skin cancer but those who are Hispanic or Black are more likely to die from it, partly because they’re more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage.

The three most common forms of skin cancer and how they appear are:

  • Basal cell carcinoma — Often a flesh-colored bump, pearl-like node or pinkish patch of skin.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma — Usually a red, firm bump, scaly patch or sore that heals and then reopens.
  • Melanoma — The deadliest form, for which early treatment is most critical. It’s often found in a mole that has changed in size, color or texture, has an asymmetrical border and may bleed. It can also appear suddenly as a new dark spot, sometimes in areas that get less sun exposure like the palms, soles, fingertips, toes, nose, mouth or groin.