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Skin Cancer: 4 Reasons You're at Risk

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Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the country, and its numbers are on the rise. Here, the most common skin cancer mistakes and risks, and how to give yourself a skin exam.

1. You assume your doctor is looking out for suspicious moles.

Maybe you're good about avoiding the sun at its strongest. Maybe you don't intentionally fry anymore. Whatever your rationale, you may think skin cancer is other people's problem (particularly George Hamilton types who winter in Palm Springs). Yet skin cancer is not only the most common cancer in the country -- there are more than 1.3 million new cases a year -- its numbers have been rising for several decades. Here, the common mistakes women make.

  1. You assume your doctor is looking out for suspicious moles. Don't. If your primary-care physician takes her cues from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a leading authority for screening tests, she may not do a full-body skin exam during a routine checkup. This could be the case even if you've got risk factors for skin cancer -- you're fair or have freckles, you have many moles, you had a lot of sun exposure as a child or you have a personal or family history of skin cancer. In a national study, Alan Geller, MPH, an associate professor of dermatology at Boston University School of Medicine, found that 41 percent of internists and general practitioners do not routinely do skin exams on their high-risk patients. (Your doctor is more likely to be annually scanning your skin if she follows the recommendations of the American Cancer Society, the American Academy of Dermatology, or the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.) If your doctor doesn't check your skin, ask her to. Either she'll do it, or she'll refer you to a dermatologist for a more thorough exam.

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