It is unlikely your mother ever said, “Get undressed in somebody’s office once a year.” Nevertheless, if she did, then that might be one of the most important instructions she gave, because a yearly skin cancer screening quite simply saves lives. A quick, thorough “skin scan,” from an experienced, board-certified dermatologist is too often the missing piece in a person’s defense against the most common form of cancer. With more cases of skin cancer reported in the U.S. year after year than all other forms of cancer combined, this is by far the leading form of that dread disease. In fact, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer by age 70.
So, regardless of mother’s advice on undressing, don’t let modesty kill you. Anyway, it’s not a naked thing; people keep their undies on all the time in a skin cancer screening, and it still saves lives.
The Place of Private Precautions
Self-examinations through the year are an excellent idea, too, especially after your dermatologist has briefed you on what to watch for. Important as self-exams can be for maintaining awareness, a friend once asked, “Are you going to bet your life on your own ability to tell the difference between a mole, or a cyst, or a bump, or a zit, and a deadly melanoma?” Another friend remarked that the spot he most wanted to show his doc proved to be of no interest, but she zoomed in on three areas he had not suspected at all. Because of a lot of education, and a lot of experience, the professional eye is going to see things differently.
If She Never Said a Thing
Even though far more people spent their lives outdoors a few decades ago, the reported cases of skin cancer then were much fewer than today, and so many of us never heard a word about skin cancer as we grew up. Reported cases of a particularly deadly form of skin cancer, melanoma, doubled in recent years, from 40,000 a year in 1999 to 80,000 in 2015. Nearly 84,000 new cases of melanoma were reported in 2018, the most recent year for which statistics are available.
Why such an alarming increase in a world where life takes place in front of computer and mobile screens? And why so little talk about it, way back in a world where people worked outdoors?
We had defenses against the harm that the sun can do, back when work for most people was outdoors. These defenses were so simple and so common that we weren’t even aware of their purpose most of the time. Hats and sleeves were a couple of these. Farmers and real cowboys were never seen without them. Construction workers never showed up in shorts in those days, and long sleeves were the norm, even in summer. We could use a couple of lessons today from what people then took for granted.
Newer Tools for Protection
Some other defenses might have gone unmentioned by mom, simply because they hadn’t been developed yet when she was growing up. Sunscreen might be the biggest of these defenses, and one of the easiest to use, even though we couldn’t call it new any longer. Yet still, too many people are slow to adopting sunscreen and making it a daily routine.
Our first, best advice is to make a yearly once-over something you make part of your natural routine. It would be a privilege to become your source for your annual skin cancer screening.