Spring is here and summer is right around the corner which means sun exposure will be at an all-time high. While those warm rays help with vitamin D production, they could also mean an increase in the potential for skin cancer.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sun exposure is the most common cause of cancer in the United States.
There are three types to be on the look-out for: basal cell, squamous cell, and melanoma.(2)
Melanoma is the most deadly and therefore most discussed and recognized, however the other two types are also important. And all three can hide in unlikely places requiring, a full body skin check to find them.
1) In the scalp
Even if you've got a full head of hair, the sun can beat down and create skin changes nobody sees. This may be more apparent on someone with little to no hair but it is important that on a full body skin check, health care providers comb through the hair by section and evaluate for any concerning areas.
2) On the bottom of the feet
While feet tend to be in shoes or on the ground covered up away from the sun, there are plenty of times they are bare and exposed. This can lead to increased chances of skin cancer.
Take a minute to look at your feet, including in between your toes just to double-check and see if everything is healthy.
3) On the lip
What may start out as a tiny freckle or flaky spot could turn into skin cancer quickly. The lips are particularly sensitive, as they are always exposed to the environment and any lip balm sunscreen applied is often washed or wiped off quickly through talking, eating, drinking, or licking of lips.
4) In and around the ears
Much like the lips, ears are often fully exposed to the environment and are not covered up in baseball hats (although they are mostly protected by big brimmed hats). Many people forget to include their ears when applying sunscreen to their face and neck resulting in increased risk for skin cancer.
5) Under the finger nails
Oddly enough, skin cancer can form under the finger nails. This is why it is important for women who paint their nails or wear fake nails to double-check their original nail regularly and look for dark spots, as melanoma is the most common concern.
Given the unusual places skin cancer can hide, it is important during a full-body check that a health care provider really check from the top of the head down to the bottoms of the feet.
Many do a cursory check to the places of the body with the most exposure to the sun — face, chest, shoulders and back. To prepare for a full scan, remove all makeup, as it can mask subtle changes in the skin that may look like a dry patch but could in fact be concerning.
If there are any skin concerns, changes in moles, or new skin spots that develop, talk with your health care provider right away.
Reviewed May 16, 2016
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith
1) Bristow I, de Berker D, Acland K, Turner R, and Bowling J. (2010). Clinical Guidelines for the recognition of melanoma of the foot and nail unit. Retrieved on May 12, 2016.
2) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). Skin Cancer. Retrieved on May 10, 2016.