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Are You Helping Your Clients Avoid Skin Cancer?

Posted: November 29, 2010

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Fox recommends checking yourself, head to toe, once a month. That means stripping down to your birthday suit and looking over every inch of skin, even in areas where you'll need a hand mirror to get a good look. "Many cases of melanoma and other cancers develop on the scalp," Fox says. "These cancers can be deadly, but unfortunately, most people don't check the tops of their heads very often." Be sure to check the palms of your hands, your nails, and the soles of your feet, too.

Know what is normal.

In most cases, a normal mole is an even brown, tan or black color, which can be either flat or raised, round or oval. Some moles are present at birth, others develop during childhood or even later in life, especially in areas that get lots of sun. Once a mole is there, it will most likely stay the same size, shape and color. Some moles eventually fade and disappear. "Almost everybody has moles, and almost all of those moles are harmless," Fox says. But people with lots of moles, more than 50, are at a higher risk for skin cancer.

What's not normal: Flesh-colored, pearl-like bumps or pinkish or reddish patches of skin that flake or scale (or even bleed), which can be basal cell or squamous cell carcinomas.

Pay attention to changes in your skin.

Look for anything new, a new mark, or an old mark that looks different, as well as any new sensations in or around a freckle or mole. In some cases, the skin can become crusty or scaly, or start to feel itchy or even sore. Pay attention to any marks that change in color, size or shape, as well as marks that just look different from the other marks on your body. "Spots on the skin come in all shapes and sizes, and not every mark you see will be cancer," Fox says. "But if you see something that really stands out, what dermatologists call an 'ugly duckling', be sure to tell your dermatologist in a timely manner."

Schedule an annual skin check with your dermatologist.

Most people should see the dermatologist once a year--and anyone who's had skin cancer already or who has other significant risk factors should make it at least every six months. At this exam, the doctor will check your skin and discuss any changes that the two of you have found.

Find a dermatologist who uses dermatoscopy technology.