It was particularly scorching on the day I planned to get my first skin check. I walked outside and felt the heat coat my skin, covering every limb in a soft wash of sweat. Mixed with the layer of SPF 50 I’d furiously applied that day, know, for optics, I was drenched. And I was nervous. Skin checks are rightfully ubiquitous in 2019— so much so, I was met with concerned stares and animated jaw-drops each time I let it slip I’d never had one. And, as a beauty editor, that harsh reality felt even more humiliating.
According to Elizabeth Goldberg, MD, a board-certified dermatologist practicing in New City and a spokesperson for The Skin Cancer Foundation, everyone is susceptible to skin cancer, regardless of age, gender, race, or skin tone. “One in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70,” she told me, meaning almost everyone will know someone who has experienced the disease, even if they don’t get it themselves.
Rather than make a gratis appointment in a fancy office, I set out to have a different kind of experience that day. The Skin Cancer Foundation provides free screenings in an RV in approximately 17 different cities during the summer. Called Destination: Healthy Skin, the program allows for those without health insurance to get checked on their own time schedule. This season, the foundation hosted 34 screening events and reached 30,000 people. And I was one of them. I waited for about 15 minutes in a line that was far shorter than I expected.
The RV was stationed in Columbus Circle in New City. After filling out a few pages of paperwork, I was whisked to the back to start my appointment. I met Dr. Goldberg, a woman so kind in the eyes I almost forgot the creeping fear I’d felt all morning. Almost. The fact is, I do know a few people who have been affected by skin cancer and I’d spent a lot of time lubing my body in baby oil as a teenager. I all but expected her to find something on my body.
On what doctors actually look for…
“Dermatologists participating in the Destination: Healthy Skin program screen patients to identify the most common type of skin cancers. This includes basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), melanoma and pre-cancer, actinic keratosis,” explains Goldberg. “Dermatologists will also be looking for rare but dangerous types of skin cancer such as Merkel cell carcinoma and acral lentiginous melanoma. As board-certified dermatologists, we look for skin growths that increase in size or shape and appear pearly, translucent, tan, brown, black, or multicolored; spots or sores that continues to itch, hurt, crust, scab, erode, or bleed; open sores that haven’t healed within three weeks, and changes in existing moles,” she says.
On how to check…
“The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends practice monthly head-to-toe self-examinations, so they can find any new or changing lesions that might be cancerous or precancerous,” Goldberg shares. “Performed regularly, self-examinations can alert to changes in skin and aid in the early detection of skin cancer. It should be done often enough to become a habit, but not so often as to feel like a bother.” she says, adding, “For most people, once a month is ideal, but ask doctor if should do more frequent checks.
There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Because each has many different appearances, it is important to know the early warning signs. Look especially for change of any kind. We often recommend the A.B.C.D.E. guideline (asymmetry, border, color, diameter, and evolving). Do not ignore a suspicious spot simply because it does not hurt. Skin cancers may be painless, but dangerous all the same. If notice one or more of the warning signs mentioned previously, see a doctor right away, preferably a board-certified dermatologist.”
On the best ways to prevent skin cancer in 2019…
“Skin cancer is highly preventable if make sun protection a daily habit,” laments Goldberg. “Clothing is the first line of defense against skin cancer, so cover up with long sleeve shirts and pants whenever possible. Wear a broad-brimmed hat to protect scalp, neck and ears. Hats provide some protection for eyes, but UV-blocking sunglasses provide the most effective protection. Choose a pair large enough to shield eyes, eyelids, and surrounding areas. Wrap-around styles, with UV-protective side shields, are best,” she says.
Goldberg continues: “Second, use a broad spectrum, SPF 15 or higher sunscreen every day. For extended time outdoors, choose a water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 or higher. It’s important that sunscreen is labeled ‘broad spectrum,’ which means it protects against UVB and UVA rays. Finally, seek the shade, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun’s rays are strongest.”
FYI: The Skin Cancer Foundation has also launched a multiyear public service campaign called The Big See meant to empower people to take a proactive approach to skin cancer detection. Head to the link above to find out more about the initiative.
Next up: How one woman’s “cyst” led to a two-year skin cancer nightmare.