The Importance of Skin Self-Exams While You Shelter-in-Place

April 7, 2020

Woman performing skin self-exams

Skin cancer is one of the most serious concerns we deal with on a regular basis at U.S. Dermatology Partners. For our patients who have been diagnosed with skin cancer or who are at risk for this condition, the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic may be especially frightening. At U.S. Dermatology Partners, we are still here to help you at this time. We will continue to offer essential services, including skin cancer treatments. Many concerns that you find during skin self-exams at home can be addressed through telehealth visits. But, for patients who need to be seen for an urgent matter, we are making every effort to ensure our offices are safe settings.

According to Dr. Valerie Truong of U.S. Dermatology Partners in Dallas, Texas, “If you currently or previously had skin cancer, it’s important to keep up with preventive skin self-exams during the COVID-19 pandemic. You should speak with your dermatologist as soon as possible to establish an ongoing plan in light of the current pandemic situation so that you can stay healthy during this challenging time.” In this blog, Dr. Truong is going to share some skin cancer facts and tips for staying healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Skin Self-Exams & Early Diagnosis are Essential Right Now

Whether you are currently dealing with skin cancer, you are in remission from a previous diagnosis, or you have undiagnosed skin cancer, you may be at greater risk for COVID-19. A history of cancer can compromise your immune system, leading to difficulty fighting off the effects of COVID-19, if you do contract the virus. Performing skin self-exams and letting your dermatologist know right away if you notice changes can give us time to partner with you to plan treatment and ensure you’re staying safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Dr. Truong, “Early diagnosis is always important to ensure best outcomes for skin cancer patients, but with the increased health risks at play right now, early diagnosis and treatment planning is essential. While we are planning for skin cancer treatment after diagnosis, we will also collaborate with patients to create a plan to limit COVID-19 exposure risks. Any preexisting or newly diagnosed illness may mean an increased health risk during a pandemic, so we want to make sure we are making every effort to keep our patients healthy.”

Performing a Thorough Skin Self-Exam

We recommend performing a skin self-exam every month to monitor skin for new moles and spots or changes to existing spots that may indicate developing skin cancer. Performing a skin cancer self-exam is easy. Simply stand in front of a full-length mirror in a well-lit room. You’ll also want to use a hand mirror to see the back of your body. Starting at the top of your head, carefully look for moles, spots, and other changes to your skin’s tone or texture. Examine all surfaces of the body, including areas you may not think about like the scalp, soles of your feet, and around the nails. If you notice any changes or areas of concern, make a note and contact your dermatologist for a professional exam as soon as possible. Dr. Truong says, “We are recommending teledermatology visits whenever possible. We are trying to protect our patients and clinicians from unnecessary risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. On a more global scale, we are making every effort to slow the spread in order to not overwhelm our hospital systems, while there are limited resources and personal protective equipment for our front-line health care providers battling this pandemic. These online appointments are not right for every dermatologic condition, but they are great options for individuals who notice an area of concern during a self-exam. Your dermatologist can take a closer look at these irregularities via online video chat and help you determine whether or not the situation is concerning enough to schedule an appointment for us to take a closer look in person.”

Learn the ABCDEs of Skin Cancer

When performing skin self-exams, you should start by learning your ABCDEs.

  • A – Asymmetry – Spots that are not uniform in shape or differ from one side to the other
  • B – Border – Edges are irregular or undefined
  • C – Color – Shades vary on different parts of the spot or are irregular for your skin tone
  • D – Diameter – Cancerous spots can be any size, but those that are larger in diameter than a pencil eraser may be most concerning
  • E – Evolving – Any lesion that changes quickly in any way may be concerning

You can record any irregularities you notice using this body mole map from the American Academy of Dermatology. Keeping these maps as a record is a great way to help your dermatologist understand where you are developing new moles or experiencing growth or evolution that may be concerning.

The Types of Skin Cancer

There are many types of skin cancer, but most cases are diagnosed as one of the three most common types described below:

  • Basal Cell Carcinoma – This is the most common form of skin cancer. This type of skin cancer is the least likely to be life-threatening, but without intervention, there is a risk for permanent skin damage or disfigurement. The skin lesions from basal cell carcinoma can vary in appearance, but they typically look like small moles that are close to your natural flesh-tone. They may bleed easily.
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma – Also very common, squamous cell carcinomas develop in the outer layers of skin. This form of cancer is more aggressive than basal cell carcinoma but less aggressive than melanoma. It requires treatment to prevent spread to other parts of the body. Squamous cell carcinoma often forms as firm, raised nodules on an area of the body exposed to sunlight. It may also form as a crust or new sore over an existing scar or ulcerated part of the skin. In addition to sun-exposed areas, this type of cancer is also common on and inside the mouth and around the genitals.
  • Melanoma – This is the most dangerous form of skin cancer, causing 79% of skin cancer-related deaths. Melanomas may appear as a sore that doesn’t heal, darker pigmentation that seems to spread out from a mole, or a skin lesion that is quickly changing, itching, or swollen.

Prevent Skin Cancer

Skin cancers may be caused by a variety of things, but sun exposure is by far the most common cause of skin cancer. The easiest way to reduce your risk of developing skin cancer is to avoid unnecessary sun exposure. To protect your skin from damage caused by UVA/B rays, remember to:

  • Apply sunscreen every day, even when it’s cold or cloudy outside
  • Avoid UV exposure during peak hours, between 10 am and 2 pm
  • Reapply sunscreen regularly if you are outside for an extended period
  • Take breaks from the sun if possible
  • Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher
  • Cover up with hats, gloves, long sleeves, and pants if you are at high risk for sun damage

Ongoing Treatment for Skin Cancer During the COVID-19 Pandemic

At U.S. Dermatology Partners, we are committed to offering seamless care for all of our patients during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that is especially important for our patients who are currently receiving skin cancer treatment. According to Dr. Truong, “If you’re undergoing treatment for skin cancer, please make sure you’re working closely with your dermatologist. We want to ensure we’re keeping our skin cancer patients safe as they may be at greater risk for COVID-19, especially immediately after treatments. We will discuss your skin cancer treatment plan and make adjustments as necessary to ensure your health and safety while maintaining your treatment schedule.”

U.S. Dermatology Partners is Here to Help with Teledermatology

If you require a virtual dermatology visit, we make the process easy. Simply complete our online request form for teledermatology visits. Once your local U.S. Dermatology Partners team receives your request, we’ll be in touch to walk you through the process and finalize your appointment time.

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