It really is as simple as it sounds.

Know your skin. Watch for changes. Check every month.

Dr. Sandhya Ventrapragada of Faith Regional Physician Services gave that message to AgCeptional Women Conference attendees on Nov. 18 at Northeast Community College.

She informed women how to recognize skin cancer and how to avoid it.

“Know your body. Look at your skin. Check every month. Watch for changes,” she said. .

One in five Americans may be affected by skin cancer. While anyone can get it, everyone can know how to detect it early and practice tips to avoid it.

Basal cell carcinoma and squamous carcinoma often develop on sun-exposed areas of the body — often the face, head, lip or neck. These cells often grow slowly and rarely spread to other parts of the body. Basal cell and squamous carcinoma may appear as abnormal areas of skin that are irregularly pink, red and swollen, peeling, bleeding or looking like an open sore, or thick and crusty.

Not all skin changes are cancer.

Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. Melanoma can appear anywhere on your skin. It can look like moles with some differences. It may resemble changing growths or freckles or unusual age spots. The spots may bleed or itch like sores.

They can appear in places where you would not expect them, such as under your nails or on the soles of your feet or the palms of your hands, even though these places don't get a lot of sunshine.

Melanoma can be about a mole or a spot that is asymmetric — where half of the mole or spot is unlike the other half. The border of the spot is irregular or undefined. The color changes from one area to another, Ventrapragada said.

It can be larger than a pencil eraser, and it looks different from others of your body or is changing. It requires a health care provider, she said.

While anyone can get skin cancer, everyone can be careful and protect themselves year-round from skin cancer. Some medications can make people more sensitive to light. For those who have had a lot of sunburns, have been tanning, spend a lot of time outdoors or have a family history of skin cancer, be vigilant.

For protection, avoid the sun during the hottest part of the day, especially from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. when the sun’s rays are the strongest.

Wear protective cover-up clothing such as long-sleeve shirts, pants, wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses with UV protection.

Babies younger than 6 months should be kept out of direct sunlight as much as possible.

Use sunscreen with a broad-spectrum water-resistant SPF of 30 or above to cover all skin not covered by clothing.

Broad spectrum sunscreen gives protection from UV A and UV B rays. Apply sunscreen to the tops of your feet, neck, ears, and the top of your head. When outdoors, reapply sunscreen every two hours and after swimming or sweating.

Use extra caution around water or snow or sand and around landscapes that reflect the sun’s rays that could result in sunburn.

Avoid tanning beds as ultraviolet light from tanning beds can cause skin cancer and premature skin aging. There is no need to have dark skin.

Self-examine your skin on a regular schedule, such as monthly, to detect any changes early. Early detection is when it's most treatable. Talk to your doctor if you notice any new or suspicious spots.

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