Skin cancer is a very big deal to me. My grandfather had both melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, and Kaposi sarcoma, a cancer that originates in the blood vessels but causes lesions to appear on the skin. Kaposi sarcoma (KS) is often associated with AIDS, but is also occurs in people of Mediterranean, Eastern European, and Middle Eastern heritage. In these populations, it is found most commonly in older people, and it is seen more often in men than in women. KS is also seen in Equitorial Africa, where it is often found in men and women under 40, and even in children.
I’m probably not much at risk for KS. I’m not an elderly man of Mediterranean descent. But then again, neither was my grandfather. As far as we know, he was 100 percent German, as blond and Aryan as they come.
However, I am very much at risk for melanoma. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, The risk factors for melanoma are:
- Blistering sunburns as a child.
- Cumulative sun exposure. People who live in areas with more sunlight (e.g., Florida, Hawaii, Australia) develop more skin cancers. Tanning beds and tanning booths also increase exposure to UV rays, increasing the risk of melanoma and other skin cancers.
- Moles, moles, and more moles. And atypical or “dysplastic” moles.
- Skin type: people with fairer skin and lighter eye color are at increased risk. You can take the Skin Cancer Foundation’s skin type quiz to find out just how much your skin type puts you at risk.
- Personal history: If you’ve had one melanoma, you’re at greater risk for more. Also, if you’ve had any type of skin cancer, including basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma, you’re at great risk for melanoma.
- Family history: About one in every 10 patients diagnosed with the disease has a family member with a history of melanoma. If your mother, father, siblings or children have had a melanoma, you are in a melanoma-prone family. Each person with a first-degree relative diagnosed with melanoma has a 50 percent greater chance of developing the disease than people who do not have a family history of the disease. Research has found genetic mutations that contribute to familial melanoma.
I have a lot of those factors. I am a pale person. Really, really pale. There are places where my skin is kind of…clear. I had multiple blistering sunburns as a child; I have scars from them. (Apparently when I was a kid, our “sunscreen” had an SPF factor of “coconut.”) I have a ton of moles, and every year my dermatologist removes some; at least one is always dysplastic. And then there’s the family history.
On the same side of my family, my grandmother survived breast cancer, my mother died of ovarian cancer, and my uncle died of lung cancer that metastasized to his brain. So, yeah, I take cancer prevention and cancer screenings seriously.
At one point, my moles were changing so rapidly that I went to the dermatologist every six months. More recently, this has slowed down, and I’m back to going just one a year for my annual “Mole Patrol.” Of course, if I see something unusual, I go in for a check in between my regular appointments.
Based on the advice of skin cancer screening experts, as well as my own personal experience, here are ten tips to help you get the most out of your annual dermatology appointment.
California Kids As Young as 12 Can Order Free Condoms via the Net
Viral Video: The Latest from Henri the Existential Cat
Why the NBA’s Jason Collins Is a True Role Model for My Kids
Exotic Pets: Capybaras (‘Giant Hamsters’) Aren’t for Everyone