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1. Types of Skin Cancer

Skin cancers are named for the type of cells that become malignant (cancer). The three most common types are:

Melanoma – Melanoma begins in the melanocytes (pigment cells). Most melanocytes are in the skin. Melanoma can occur on any skin surface. In men, it is often found on the skin on the head, on the neck, or between the shoulders and the hips. In women, it is often found on the skin on the lower legs or between the shoulders and hips.

Basal cell skin cancer – Basal cell skin cancer begins in the basal cell layer of the skin. It usually occurs in places that have been in the sun. For example, the face is the most common place to find basal cell skin cancer. Basal cell skin cancer is the most common type of skin cancer in people with fair skin.

Squamous cell skin cancer - Squamous cell skin cancer begins in the squamous cells. In people with dark skin, squamous cell skin cancer is the most common type of skin cancer, and it's usually found in places that are not in the sun such as legs or feet. However, in people with fair skin, squamous cell skin cancer usually occurs on parts of the skin that have been in the sun, such as the head, face, ears, and neck.

For more information about skin cancer and its treatment, visit the Maine Medical Center Cancer Institute website,www.mmc.org/skincancer.

2. How You Can Lower Your Risk of Skin Cancer

Maine's rate of skin cancer is higher than the national average. The three most common types of skin cancer are melanoma, basal cell and squamous cell. Although melanoma occurs less often than basal cell and squamous cell, it is the cause of 75% of skin cancer deaths.

To lower your risk of skin cancer, avoid sun exposure between 10 AM and 4 PM. When you must be outside:

* wear a broad-brim hat

* wear sunglasses that are UVB-protective

* apply broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF (sun-protection factor) of 30 or higher.

Don't use tanning booths or sun lamps. Even artificial sunlight is damaging to skin.

For more information about skin cancer and its treatment, visit the Maine Medical Center Cancer Institute website,www.mmc.org/skincancer.


3. How to Check Your Skin for Signs of Cancer

Your doctor or nurse may suggest that you do a regular skin self-exam to check for a new skin cancer. The best time to do this exam is after a shower or bath. Check your skin in a room with plenty of light. Use a full-length mirror and a hand-held mirror. It's best to begin by learning where your birthmarks, moles, and other marks are and their usual look and feel.

Check for anything new:

* A new mole that looks different from your other moles

* A new red or darker color flaky patch that may be a little raised

* A new flesh-colored firm bump

* A change in the size, shape, color, or feel of a mole

* A sore that doesn't heal

Check yourself from head to toe:

* Look at your face, neck, ears, and scalp. You may want to use a comb or a blow dryer to move your hair so that you can see your scalp better. You also may want to have a relative or friend check your scalp through your hair. It can be hard to check your scalp by yourself.

* Look at the front and back of your body in the mirror. Then, raise your arms and look at your left and right sides.

* Bend your elbows. Look carefully at your fingernails, palms, forearms (including undersides), and upper arms.

* Examine the back, front, and sides of your legs. Also look around your genital area and between your buttocks.

* Sit and closely examine your feet, including your toenails, your soles, and the spaces between your toes.

By checking your skin regularly, you'll learn what is normal for you. It may be helpful to record the dates of your skin exams and to write notes about the way your skin looks. If your doctor has taken photos of your skin, you can compare your skin to the photos to help check for changes. If you find anything unusual, see your doctor.

For more information about skin cancer and its treatment, visit the Maine Medical Center Cancer Institute website, www.mmc.org/skincancer.

4. Symptoms of Melanoma

While melanoma is occurs less often than other types of skin cancer, it is the cause of 75% of skin cancer deaths. Often the first sign of melanoma is a change in the shape, color, size, or feel of an existing mole. It also may appear as a new mole. "ABCDE" is one way to remember what to look for:

Asymmetry: The shape of one half does not match the other half.

Border that is irregular: The edges are often ragged, notched, or blurred in outline. The pigment may spread into the surrounding skin.

Color that is uneven: Shades of black, brown and tan may be present. Areas of white, gray, red, pink, or blue may also be seen.

Diameter: There is a change in size, usually an increase. Melanomas can be tiny, but most are larger than the size of a pea (larger than 6 millimeters or about ¼ inch)

Evolving: The mole has changed over the past few weeks or months.

Melanomas can vary greatly in how they look. Many show all of the ABCDE features. However some may show changes or abnormal areas in only one or two of the ABCDE features.

For more information about skin cancer and its treatment, visit the Maine Medical Center Cancer Institute website, www.mmc.org/skincancer.

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