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As professionals in close contact with their client’s skin, a massage therapist may be the only person who sees someone’s skin irregularities. Many people look at easily visible parts of their body, but they may not regularly examine less accessible areas for skin concerns. Additionally, despite all of the existing warnings to map and track moles with a dermatologist, only a small percentage of people actually follow this advice.
Moles, brown spots and growths on the skin are usually harmless – but not always. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, the following are some interesting facts about skin cancer:
- More than 1.3 million skin cancers are diagnosed annually in the United States.
- One in 5 Americans and one in 3 Caucasians will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime.
- Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers. It is also one of the most curable when detected early.
- More than 90 percent of all skin cancers are caused by sun exposure, yet fewer than 33 percent of adults, adolescents, and children routinely use sun protection.
- A person’s risk for skin cancer doubles if he or she has had five or more sunburns.
The three major types of skin cancer are basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas and the more serious malignant melanoma. More than one million cases of basal cell or squamous cell carcinomas are diagnosed annually in the United States. Typically occurring on exposed areas of the body – face, neck, arms and hands – most basal and squamous cell carcinomas are highly curable. On the other hand, malignant melanoma is usually only curable when caught early. About 62,000 cases of melanoma will be diagnosed this year, and more than 7,900 people will die of this cancer, which has been increasing in incidence annually by approximately 3 percent since 1980.
In the Institute’s Anatomy and Pathology course, the accompanying text discusses cancerous lesions in-depth and includes high-quality images of various irregularities of the skin.
Benign Moles or Melanoma
While cancer diagnosis is obviously beyond a bodyworker’s capability and scope of practice, suggesting a client have a mole examined falls within the bounds of being a responsible, caring health practitioner. Noticing a suspicious looking mole during your session and asserting your concern can increase your client’s awareness of skin cancer and can ultimately save their life. Known as the ABCDE’s of skin health, familiarize yourself with the five criteria to visual mole evaluation:
- Asymmetry – An asymmetrical mole is a melanoma warning sign.
- Border – The borders of an early melanoma tend to be uneven. The edges may be scalloped or notched.
- Color – Having a variety of colors is another warning signal. A number of different shades of brown, tan or black could appear. A melanoma may also become red, white or blue.
- Diameter – Melanomas are usually larger in diameter than the size of a pencil eraser (1/4 inch or 6 mm), but they may sometimes be smaller when first detected.
- Evolution – Any mole change (size, shape, color, elevation, or another trait), or any new symptom such as bleeding, itching or crusting, points to danger.
Sharing Your Concern
For your client’s sake, if you spot a suspicious looking mole, do not panic. Tact can go a long way in this area. Taking a responsible position on skin health is different than installing needless worry. Here are some suggestions for professionally communicating your concern:
- Ask your client if they perform regular skin checks, through self-evaluation or with a physician.
- Calmly mention that you see a mole worthy of further investigation, and inquire if they are aware of it.
- Tout the importance of yearly skin exams by a physician.
As is the case for all healthcare professions, don’t forget to document this communication in your client’s records. If you are particularly alarmed by the appearance of a mole and your client doesn’t seem to care, don’t be afraid to follow up with them about getting checked by a physician.
Second only to dermatologists, massage therapists probably see and touch the most skin of any profession. The nature of this work makes massage therapists ideally suited to learn about and educate their clients about skin health awareness. Embracing this concept does not tout anyone as an expert, but does raise the bar of massage therapy as a responsible and valuable health profession.
Editor’s Note: Handing a brochure with a body map and the warning signs of all major skin cancers to a client can give them time to digest your concern at home. For such a free brochure, send a stamped, self-addressed, business-size envelope to:
The Skin Cancer Foundation
245 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10016
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