Risk factors for skin cancers: understand them and take action

outdoorfunMany factors can increase the risk of developing melanoma and other skin cancers. Some of these factors are due to behaviors, like exposure to the sun. However, some risk factors for skin cancers are inherited in families.

Researchers have identified several genetic risk factors for melanoma. Mutations (or changes) in these genes can cause increased risk for melanoma. The best understood gene associated with melanoma risk is called CDKN2A (also sometimes known as p16). Mutations in another gene, Continue reading

Here’s looking at you: checking to detect skin cancer

Susan Daron, RN, BSN, OCN, is one of four oncology registered nurses at the Cancer AnswerLine™

Susan Daron, RN, BSN, OCN, is one of four oncology registered nurses at the Cancer AnswerLine™

As warm weather approaches and we shed our wool pants and winter jackets for shorts and tank tops, people often ask what they can do to protect their skin. While limiting sun exposure, wearing sunglasses, and applying sunscreen are common sense, there is something else you can do monthly that could your life. It is called a skin check, and doing this can detect skin cancer.

Doing a skin check involves carefully examining all of the skin on your body. Start at your scalp and go all the way down to the soles of your feet and between your toes. During a skin check, don’t leave any area of skin unexamined. Some parts such as your back and neck are difficulty to see, so you may want to ask a partner or spouse to help. Just because the sun’s rays may not reach some areas such as the genitals doesn’t mean you can skip them. Women should examine the skin under their breasts and men should check their scrotal area.

The Skin Cancer Foundation provides step-by-step instructions for completing a head to toe skin examination.

So, how to know if a spot or bump is worrying? Here are some general guidelines from the American Cancer Society about what might be suspicious: Continue reading

Mobile App Helps with Skin Cancer Screening

Cancer screening just went mobile.

A new free app allows users to create a photographic baseline of their skin and photograph suspicious moles or other skin lesions, walking users step-by-step through a skin self-exam. The app, UMSkinCheck, sends automatic reminders so users can monitor changes to a skin lesion over time, and provides pictures of various types of skin cancers for comparisons.

The app, which was designed by U-M’s skin cancer physicians, is available for iPhone and iPad and can be downloaded on iTunes.

Doctors used to recommend patients visit a professional photographer to document their skin lesions. But, in addition to the hassle, it’s not always covered by insurance. Digital cameras on phones makes it feasible to do this at home. Regular skin checks can help people discover melanoma in its earliest stages.

The app guides users through a series of 23 photos, covering the body from head to toe. Photos are stored within the app and serve as a baseline for future comparisons. The app will create a reminder to repeat a skin self-exam on a regular basis.

If a mole appears to be changing or growing, the photos can then be shared with a dermatologist to help determine whether a biopsy is necessary.

Everyone should do regular skin self-exams to detect skin cancer at the earliest stages, when treatment is less invasive and more successful. It’s even more important for people at high risk, including those who have:

  • Fair skin
  • Burn easily
  • Past sunburns
  • Used tanning beds
  • Family history of melanoma

Not sure if you’re at high risk of skin cancer? The app includes a risk calculator that allows you to input your personal data to calculate your individual risk.

Watch this video in which Dr. Michael Sabel of the U-M Multidisciplinary Melanoma Clinic talks about why the app was created and the prevalence of skin cancer.

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Skin Cancer and Genetics: More Than Meets the Eye

Many factors can increase the risk of developing melanoma and other skin cancers.  Some of these factors are due to behaviors, like exposure to the sun.  However, some risk factors for skin cancer are inherited in families.

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that affects about 59,000 people every year in the United States.  People who have a parent or sibling who has had melanoma are at about double the risk of the general population.  This is because family members may have similar histories of sun exposure and may share inherited physical features like fair skin or light hair.  In some families, there is an inherited risk for melanoma related to genes that are passed from parents to their children.

If you or a family member has had melanoma, it may be worth talking with your doctor about the rest of your family history.  Some clues to inherited risk include:

  • Individuals with more than one melanoma
  • Other cancers in family members including:
    • Pancreatic cancer
    • Head and neck cancer
    • Breast cancer
    • Ovarian cancer
    • Cancers diagnosed at earlier ages than typically expected

People who have a family history of multiple relatives with cancers could benefit from meeting with a genetic counselor to talk about possible genetic testing, personal cancer risk, and cancer screening options.

For people who have an increased risk of melanoma, there are important steps that can help to reduce the chance of developing melanoma.

Limit sun exposure

  • Find shade when possible
  • Avoid exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when UV light is strongest
  • Wear protective clothing
  • Use sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher daily

Check your skin

  • Learn how to do a skin self-exam and check your skin once a month
  • Have regular skin exams by a doctor
  • Talk to your doctor if a mole or spot on the skin is changing in size, shape or color, or if it is persistently itching, bleeding, or growing

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Skin cancer prevention: Teens may not be getting the message

When it comes to cancer prevention, there are no guarantees. Many factors beyond our control, like genetics, play a role in whether we’ll develop cancer in our lifetime. There are things we can do, though, to decrease the chances. Avoiding smoking — or quitting — is an example. Avoiding the sun (not tanning or getting sunburned) is another. Watch this video of people who either have skin cancer, had skin cancer or are remembering someone who has died due to skin cancer.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. More than 3.5 million skin cancers in more than 2 million people are diagnosed annually. Continue reading

The Dark Side of Tanning

Experts believe that part of the rise in Melanoma over the past 30 years is due to the increase in tanning bed and sun lamp use.While the numbers of new cases of many other types of cancer are falling or leveling off, the number of new cases of skin cancer is growing.  The even sadder story is that an increasing number of these new cases occur at younger ages. Teenage girls and young women—the biggest users of indoor tanning—are at particular risk.

California recently became the first state to ban the use of tanning beds for all minors under 18, and similar legislative efforts are underway in other states. Many states already restrict use of indoor tanning for minor:  Michigan requires in-person parental permission for those under the age of 18.

The number of new cases of melanoma—a deadly form of skin cancer that kills one American approximately every hour—has been increasing for at least 30 years.  Experts believe this is partly due to an increase in the use of tanning beds and sun lamps, which have high levels of UVA rays. Continue reading