Despite our heavy cloud cover for most of the year, the Pacific Northwest has one of the highest melanoma rates in the country. Our get-every-scrap-of-sunlight-possible lifestyle might be one reason why we see more cases of this dangerous skin cancer. Other things that contribute to a person’s risk include:
- An individual or family history of skin cancer
- Previous sunburns, especially deep, blistering ones
- A history of sunbathing (particularly with baby oil) or tanning bed use
- Many dark or funny-looking nevi, also called moles
- Frequently working or playing outdoors
Most people have one or more of these risk factors. So what can you do to keep your skin safe? It’s as easy as a quick appointment. I recommend all patients get in the habit of scheduling an annual full-body skin exam to check for potential skin cancers.
By working with your doctor to determine your baseline skin health and monitoring changes over time, you increase opportunities to detect skin cancer symptoms earlier. For those patients whose history puts them at higher risk, more frequent appointments may be necessary.
Annual skin exams can benefit nearly any age group. While older individuals who have spent more time in the sun are at a greater risk of skin cancer, it’s not unheard of for teenagers to develop the disease as a result of tanning.
Beyond watching for skin changes, your dermatologist can use the examination to talk to you about what else you can do to protect your skin. For example, performing monthly skin self-exams can help you catch any changes in the size, shape, or color of skin growths or spots. Wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF rating of 30 or greater outside, and using hats, sunglasses, and clothing with sun-protective fibers can also help keep your skin young and healthy.
If you’re ready to start annual skin exams, or are concerned about a growth or spot, call 360-882-2778 to schedule an appointment.
Dr. Viet Nguyen is a dermatologist at Vancouver Clinic. He was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest and believes in providing personalized care for each patient.