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Keep My Skin Healthy [Video]

In this video, the American Cancer Society shows you how to protect your skin and gives you tips on how stay safe in the sun.

Narrator: Humans are funny creatures. Why we like to think of ourselves as different, we often act the same, and copy each other’s behavior. That is where fashion and fads come from. Although most fads and fashions are short-lived and are lost to history, some stand out. One of the fads that have developed in the 1950’s is the tan. Earlier in the twentieth century, tan skin was considered a mark of the working class and not fashionable in high society, but over the last fifty years that view changed. Never before in history has so many people intentionally exposed themselves to the rays of the sun.

Kim Fahnley: You had to get the tan, had to get going on the tan early. We were there with oil; baby oil was big, reflectors.

Doug Ulman: When I was in middle school that was the cool thing. You know all the girls were going out and getting tan and that was the attractive look, and now unfortunately, I know better. That being tan is not as cool as it looks.

Narrator: We are now beginning to realize that this fad has had serious consequences. The most important one is a dramatic increase in skin cancer.

Dr. Martin Weinstock: Skin cancer rates have increased so dramatically. They’ve gone up many, many fold, fifteen to twenty times what they were say sixty years ago. There are a about a million of cases of skin cancer every year in the United States. That makes it the most common type of cancer in the United States by far.

Narrator: There are three types of skin cancer. Basal cell, which generally occurs on the face and is usually not serious. Squamous cell, which often appears on the backs of the hand and ears and can be serious if not treated. And malignant melanoma the most serious of the common forms of skin cancer, most skin cancers are due to melanoma.

Ruthanne Molyneaux: I was thirty-eight when I learned that I had malignant melanoma. When I received my diagnosis, I was very frightened because of; I think your fear of the word “Cancer”. My thoughts immediately went to my children. I have two daughters. They were nine and twelve and my first fear was how will this affect my family, and will I be here to finish raising these girls.

Doug Ulman: I was nineteen years old when I discovered the first time I had melanoma, which was pretty much a shock because you don’t expect to get skin cancer especially not when you’re nineteen.

Dr. Martin Weinstock: Among people in their late twenties in the United States, melanoma is the most common type of cancer in that age group, and it gets more common as people get older. The most important avoidable risk factor for each of the three common forms of skin cancer is sun exposure. For melanoma it is particularly intense intermittent sun exposure and sun exposure in childhood or in early adulthood.

Narrator: Although melanoma is most common in fair-haired people with light skin, anyone can get the disease.

Dr. Martin Weinstock: Sometimes melanoma does run in families. People with lots of moles, lots of large moles, or irregular moles, those people are at increased risk for melanoma. People whose natural un-tan skin color is brown like a medium or dark brown, those people are at much lower risk of melanoma, but they are not at zero risk of melanoma. And when they do get a melanoma, it’s likely to occur on the soles of the feet. It can also occur on the palms and the nail beds.

Narrator: The most important thing to remember is that skin cancers including melanoma are curable when they are detected early.

Dr. Martin Weinstock: If you detect a melanoma when it is less than one millimeter thick that is about 1/25th of an inch, the cure rate with a simple office procedure is over ninety-five percent. When it is more than 4 millimeters thick that is about a sixth of an inch, then your cure rate for that melanoma is less than fifty percent.

Narrator: And the best way to detect skin cancers early is to perform the skin self-exam, or have someone assist you when a skin examination at least once a month.

Carrie Carmichael: I saved my life twice. A skin self-exam is incredibly important. If I hadn’t found my melanoma, would I be alive today? Would I have my son who will be graduating from high school this year? And would I be alive to see my daughter who is finishing her law degree this year? Very good chance I would not. So skin self-exam saved my life, not once but twice.

Narrator: In order to perform a skin self-exam, it’s important to know what to look for. What’s normal? And what may not be normal on your skin? Although moles are very common, in some instances they may develop into malignant melanoma. How can you tell a harmless mole from one that shows warning signs of cancer? What kinds of spots are suspicious and should be brought to the attention of your physician?

Dr. Martin Weinstock: The most important warning sign of all and the one that I emphasize the most whenever I am talking to people about early detection of melanoma is change. Change in size, shape, or color of the spot on the skin.

Narrator: The most important warning sign of all is change in size, shape or color of a spot. Any spots that become crusty or begin to ooze or bleed may also indicate a developing skin cancer and should be reported to your physician. The important thing to remember is that melanoma usually develops over a period of months or years. Any rapid changes to your skin over days, weeks, or less than a month may indicate some condition other than skin cancer and should return to normal after a few weeks. If these conditions bother you, they should also be brought to the attention of your physician.

Ruthanne Molyneaux: The critical thing for me was that it had changed, and I had watched that change, and when I told the doctor the change he was not necessarily convinced that we had a problem, but he was convinced of the fact that it bothered me. I remember him clearly saying, if it bothers you then we should get rid of it.

Dr. Martin Weinstock: Just because a person has a spot that has one or more of the warning signs for skin cancer, doesn’t necessarily mean there is anything wrong with that spot because there are benign things on the skin that can have some of those warning signs. So what it does mean is that someone should have it checked out.

Narrator: A thorough skin self-exam can take less than five minutes. That small investment of your time once a month can make a significant difference in your future health. Many people choose to perform skin self-exams on the first of the month, because it is easy to remember. When performed once a month in a regular and thorough fashion, skin examination remains the most effective way to detect melanoma at an early stage. The skin exam is best done in front of a full length mirror if one is available. Location is up to you, but many people prefer to exam their skin in the bathroom either before or after bathing. What should you look for during your monthly skin exam? Any new moles, even if they look normal, a new freckle that is darker or looks different than those around it, pigmented or colored areas that are new or that you don’t remember seeing before. A new spot that is black even if it is small, any unusual moles or spots, any change in a mole or spot.

Dr. Martin Weinstock: We recommend going down starting from the face going down, and then up the back of you.

Narrator: To begin carefully look at your face, neck, and upper chest. Then raise your arms and exam them both carefully on both sides. Remember to look carefully at both palms between fingers and the backs of the hand. Continue to look down your torso. Now take a seat and examine the front of the thighs, knees, and shins, tops and soles of your feet and between your toes. Using a hand mirror, look at the backs of your legs and thighs. Continue the exam by examining your bottom, lower, and upper back and shoulders using the hand mirror. It may be easier to see these parts of the body using both a hand mirror and a wall mirror. Hold the hand mirror so that you can see your reflection in the wall mirror like you would if you were looking at the back of your hair. Finish the exam by checking the back of your neck and scalp.

Dr. Martin Weinstock: If you have someone else who can help you with this examination, it is really helpful to have that person help you looking at the back of you. It is sometimes easier than that technique with the two mirrors, but either way is an option. If you don’t have someone else who can help you, you can do it with a wall mirror and a mirror in your hand.

Speaker: If you don’t have a significant other, someone close to you like a roommate or sibling can assist you in performing a thorough skin examination. In time the skin examination will become another healthy habit.

Kim Fahnley: I’ve just learned to read my skin and I think it is real important for people to.

Ruthanne Molyneaux: You do know your body best. You are most familiar with the markings on your body, and even though you can have a good rapport with your doctor and he or she can know you very well, they certainly cannot be mindful of changes that have occurred since the last time, unless they warrant their attention by being particular suspicious looking.

Kim Fahnley: I’ve been through the melanoma; I’ve been through squamous lip cancer. All of them life just altering and terrifying, but I’m a good story I’m a healthy story. I went through it. I am here today. I was detected early. I don’t think anything stays on my body too long now. I know what to look for and my life is wonderful.

Doug Ulman: I think that people need to know that they can truly make a difference in their own health by being very thorough and conducting these self-exams regularly.

Kim Fahnley: And I think we are ultimately responsible for ourselves.