According to the Melanoma Research Foundation and Cancer Research UK, melanoma is 90% preventable. They’re good odds compared to other cancers.
So, how do you stack these favourable odds your way?
Well, we always talk about prevention and detection.
The first step is to try and prevent daily UV damage taking place. That means protecting your skin as long as you’re awake and it’s daylight. The second is to keep an eye on your skin and detect any strange developments.
As we’re in the midst of Skin Cancer Awareness month, this post is focused on the detection side of the equation. We’ll explain why regular skin checking is important and how you can do it yourself (the initial screening at least).
Why should you check your skin?
Obviously, if you do have skin cancer you want to catch it as early as possible.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, the estimated five-year survival rate for people whose melanoma is detected early is about 99%. The survival rate falls to 66% when the disease reaches the lymph nodes and 27% when the disease metastasizes to distant organs.
As I’ll explain later, this is where men, in particular, often fall down because they don’t act fast enough and that’s having some serious consequences.
How do I do check my skin?
Every 2-3 months, monitor your skin for moles or marks that are changing.
MAP IT OUT
In adults, about 70% of melanoma cases form as new marks on the skin and are NOT associated with existing moles. At the same time, you need to monitor existing moles for any strange signs or developments (explained later).
You have options here that vary in ease, cost and reliability.
Find a local dermatology clinic that does ‘mole mapping’. They take photos of your entire body and a dermatologist will also do a physical examination. This is the easiest and most reliable option but clearly, the most expensive (£150-£300 per visit). You could do one map per year and keep an eye on your skin every 2-3 months in between to keep costs down.
You can do a ‘digital’ mole check using mole-checking apps that use artificial intelligence and dermatologists to check images taken on your smartphone. The beauty is you can do it from the privacy of your own home and it offers a low hassle solution. But it is just a tool and should not entirely replace visiting a dermatologist, especially if the app thinks there’s anything suspicious. We’re partners with SkinVision who do exactly this. In fact, every LifeJacket customer gets free 7-day access to SkinVision and access to a 12 month license for a 50% reduced rate (£25 instead of £50).
You can do an ‘analogue’ check yourself for free. Keep notes and pictures on your phone so you can compare and contrast. Make a note of existing moles, their position and what they look like. Keeping an eye on new formations on the skin will be the hardest thing to achieve this way which is why you definitely will want help and some good, well lit, high resolution photos using a smartphone camera. Fifteen minutes doing this every 2-3 months isn’t that bad.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Find a well lit room. Get help or use a large mirror and hand mirror.
Any changes can be a concern: look for growing size, changing shape, new colours, bleeding, pain, crusting, red around the edges or itching.
Use the ABCDE method to diagnose any possible problem areas.
WHERE TO CHECK
Work from top to bottom: scalp, face, neck, upper arms, elbows, forearms, both sides of your hands (including fingernails and palms), chest, sides and stomach. Then back, buttocks and legs. Lastly, check your feet including your soles.
If you’re not certain or have even the slightest doubt, see a doctor straight away. They can refer you for further checks if necessary.
Don’t wait and don’t put it off. A doctor will not think you’ve wasted his or her time – they would rather you came forward.
Side note to all you men out there
While our message and products don’t discriminate between men and women, here’s a quick side note to any men reading this.
Men are almost twice as likely to die of skin cancer vs. women and male incidence rates are forecast to double over the next 20 years.
My personal belief (without any evidence to prove this) is that men don’t habitually look at, and check, their skin to the same extent women might. On top of that, if anything does crop up, our experience at LifeJacket is that men ignore it and put off visiting a dermatologist. Anecdotally, I can tell you that almost every week, we hear from a man who has had a skin cancer diagnosis say ‘I was too busy and life got in the way’.
If you don’t believe me, watch Dave’s story.
So take this post seriously gents.
Prevention AND detection
Remember that monitoring your skin is a critical way to reduce risk.
Preventing damage by protecting your skin when outside is another.
Make sure you have both of these in your locker.
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