Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

“Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. More than 3.5 million skin cancers in over two million people are diagnosed annually.”


“One person dies of melanoma every hour (every 57 minutes).”

The facts about skin cancer are scary.  But the scariest part for archaeologists is that SUN IS THE PRIMARY CAUSE OF SKIN CANCER.

“About 86 percent of melanomas can be attributed to exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.”


“About 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.”

The average archaeologist spends about eight hours out in the sun on any given day of fieldwork.  That’s 40 hours a week, which totals to up to 720 hours a season, and potentially 28,800 hours in the sun over a 40 year career.

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Here’s the good news:  Skin cancer is relatively easy to cure if you find it, diagnose it, and begin treatments early.

“Proper performance of self skin-examinations may reduce the chances of dying of this potentially deadly disease by as much as 63 percent”.

So, make sure you perform monthly skin self-examinations.  The Skin Cancer Foundation provides a step-by-step guide to conducting a thorough self-examination.  Doctors recommend using a Body Map to keep track of any changes.

There’s no shame in asking someone to help you do your exam either.  Your loved ones will prefer a little awkwardness now compared to the consequences of skin cancer later.  If you still feel embarrassed, you can ask someone to just check your back and scalp, which are some of the harder places to examine by yourself.  Make sure your ears get checked too because we often forget to apply sunscreen there!

WebMD provides the ABCDE’s of what to look for in your moles:

  • ASYMMETRY:  One half of the mole does not match the other half
  • BORDER:  The border or edges of the mole are ragged, blurred, or irregular
  • COLOR:  The mole has different colors or it has shades of tan, brown, black, blue, white, or red
  • DIAMETER:  The diameter of the mole is larger than the eraser of a pencil
  • EVOLVING:  The mole appears different from others and/or changing in size, color, shape


However, moles aren’t the only thing you need to be checking on your skin!

Actinic keratosis is the most common type of precancerous skin growth and typically appears scaly, rough like sandpaper, or crusty, much more like a wart than a mole.  Actinic keratosis typically appears on areas that are most frequently exposed to the sun.

Basal Cell Carcinoma is the most frequent type of skin cancer.  It usually looks like an open sore that refuses to heal, an irritated patch of skin, a shiny bump similar to a mole, or a scar.

The bottom line:  see your doctor right away if you have any concerns about your skin.  Better to be safe than sorry!