Recently, actor Hugh Jackman shared the news on Instagram that he recently underwent testing for skin cancer following a checkup. This was not his first experience with a potential basal cell carcinoma; he has opened up about undergoing procedures to remove this common type of skin cancer several times over the past few years.
May was Skin Cancer Awareness Month, and Mr. Jackman’s experience is a reminder of the importance of getting annual skin checks. Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the U.S. An estimated 97,610 Americans will be diagnosed with melanoma — the deadliest form of skin cancer — in 2023. In Texas alone, an estimated 5,530 will be diagnosed with melanoma this year. Although the exact number is unknown, it is estimated that more than 3.3 million people in the U.S. are diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer — either basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma — each year.
It’s a good idea to have a healthcare provider examine your skin every year. Most skin cancers found early can be treated successfully. Unfortunately, according to a recent survey from the Prevent Cancer Foundation, 70% of Americans 21 years of age and older have not had a skin check in the past year and 24% said they have never had a skin check.
You should also check your own skin monthly to look for possible signs of skin cancer. The Prevent Cancer Foundation recommends using the ABCDEs of skin cancer as a helpful tool when checking your skin for suspicious moles: asymmetry, border irregularity, color that is not uniform, diameter greater than 6mm, and evolving size, shape or color. Any changes in size, shape or elevation of a mole, or any new symptoms such as bleeding, itching or crusting should be reported to a health care provider.
Advances in screening and treatment have reduced the skin cancer death rate, but significant disparities in health outcomes persist.
Anyone, regardless of skin color, may develop skin cancer. Although skin cancers are less common in non-white racial/ethnic groups, when they occur, they tend to be diagnosed at more advanced stages when they are harder to treat.
The good news: Skin cancer is highly preventable. Most cases are caused by exposure to UV rays. Although it’s impossible to completely avoid UV exposure, there are steps you can take to protect your skin. Wear clothing, hats and sunglasses that block UV rays, and apply broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher daily — even on cloudy days. If you can, stay out of the sun when the UV rays are most intense (generally between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.).
Indoor tanning is not a safe alternative to outdoor tanning and should be completely avoided. Learn more at www.preventcancer.org/skin.
Lorena Saenz is the spouse of U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, and a member of the Prevent Cancer Foundation’s Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program.