Dr. Curtis Harris, associate professor of surgery at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, said exposure to the sun is the most common precursor to skin cancer. Skin cancer, which is the abnormal growth of skin cells, is very common in this part of the world. Although the sun does many beneficial things for our bodies, Dr. Harris says it is important to limit your exposure to sunlight.

“For some skin types, 10 to 20 minutes may be too much sun exposure at one time,” Dr. Harris said.  “Exposure to the sun causes increased appearance of aging and damages the skin so that it looks older.”  

According to Dr. Harris, it is beneficial to avoid sun exposure between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. when the sun’s ultraviolet rays are most intense. People who have a light skin tone and freckles are more susceptible because they have less skin pigment to protect them. 

Dr. Harris said early detection of skin cancer gives you the greatest chance for successful skin cancer treatment. “If you have exposed your skin to the sun from ages 6-18 on a regular basis, 20 years down the road you are more likely to develop sun exposure problems,” said Dr. Harris.

If you have a questionable area on your skin, it is important to get it looked at by a doctor. If cancer is found, treatment may include radiation or removal. “Early detection is important,” Dr. Harris said. “The smaller the lesion is, the easier it is to treat successfully.”

According to Dr. Harris, it is important to know the signs of skin cancer, and to take action if there are any red flags.

ABC’s of Skin Cancer:  What to Look For

A- Asymmetry:

Normal moles or freckles are completely symmetrical. If you were to draw a line through a normal spot, you would have two symmetrical halves. In cases of skin cancer, spots will not look the same on both sides.

B- Border:

A mole or spot with blurry and/or jagged edges.

C- Color:

A mole that is more than one hue is suspicious and needs to be evaluated by a doctor. Color changes to be concerned about are regions that are dark brown to black, although melanoma can be pink or multi-colored.

D- Diameter:

If it is larger than a pencil eraser (about 1/4 inch or 6 mm), it needs to be examined by a doctor. This includes areas that do not have any other abnormalities such as color, border, and asymmetry.

E- Elevation:

Elevation means the mole is raised above the surface and has an uneven surface.

According to Dr. Harris, skin cancer is not due to one cause, and there are many ways to help prevent skin cancer. The earlier you start, the better. “Sunscreen, long sleeved clothing and sunglasses are important, even for children,” he said. “The most common areas people get skin cancer is on their face and hands.”

It is important to remember that you are exposed to the sun when you are in your car, when you cross the street, and when you check the mail.

A sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 is important to use every time you are exposed to the sun, and it needs to be applied every few hours. Also, try to avoid tanning oils and products that increase your exposure to the sun.

Skin cancer and melanoma can be seen at any age, but is most commonly seen in patients between the ages of 50 and 70.

Dr. Harris recommends visiting a family doctor for a skin check at least one a year. If there are changes in an area of the skin, it will be easier to treat with early detection.

To make an appointment with any USA Physician, call (251) 434-3711.

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