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Don’t Ignore those Lumps, Bumps and Weird Moles on Your Skin

Image of Elizabeth Anderson, a physician assistant at Naval Hospital Jacksonville’s Dermatology Clinic, uses a lighted scope to check a patient’s skin. “Skin cancer rates are high in Florida, and it’s important to self-check monthly,” Anderson said. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S. To reduce risk, protect your skin from UV rays from the sun, tanning booths, and sunlamps. Elizabeth Anderson, a physician assistant at Naval Hospital Jacksonville’s Dermatology Clinic, uses a lighted scope to check a patient’s skin. “Skin cancer rates are high in Florida, and it’s important to self-check monthly,” Anderson said. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S. To reduce risk, protect your skin from UV rays from the sun, tanning booths, and sunlamps. (Photo: Deidre Smith, Naval Hospital Jacksonville)

Beware of lumps and bumps.

When it comes to your skin, anything out of the ordinary is a potential cause for concern.

Keep an eye out for moles that are changing or growing in size.

Maybe it's just acne. But it also could be skin cancer.

You might be surprised to hear that your skin is the largest organ in your body. It protects against the environment, including sunlight, bacteria, chemicals, and extreme temperature.

Skin problems are among the top 10 reasons active duty service members seek out medical care, military medical data show.

A common reason that service members seek out medical attention is for inflammatory skin conditions, including acne, shaving bumps, or ingrown hairs. Others report unusual lumps and bumps. These are generally the top reasons service members seek dermatology care, said Dr. Neil Gibbs, dermatology residency program director at Naval Medical Center San Diego.

Eczema or psoriasis are other skin conditions. They can be treated but not cured, Gibbs added.

Increased Risk for Military?

The military is primarily an outdoor profession. Many service members are continuously exposed to the sun. Others get intermittent overexposure when they step out from behind their desks.

Either way, sun exposure takes its toll over time. Whether you're fair or dark skinned, too much sun can lead to diseases including skin cancer.

"Be proactive and protect yourself from the sun by avoiding it or using sun protection," said Navy Capt. (Dr.) Josephine Nguyen, senior dermatology consultant to the Navy Surgeon General in Falls Church, Virginia.

Many service members fail to make skin care a top priority, she said.

"There is a lack of focus on preventative care," Nguyen said.

The first key step is regular use of sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher. Avoid the sun when possible between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun's rays are the strongest. And, wearing protective clothing.

Also, get your moles checked. If you have a large number of moles, ask a doctor for a whole-body mole check to see if there are any signs of changes that could be serious, Nguyen advised.

Mole checks are a common reason to seek out a dermatologist. At Naval Hospital Bremerton, Navy Lt. Cmdr. (Dr.) Tatyana Yetto explained how these are the most common skin condition she sees. Yetto is the staff dermatologist and head of Internal Medicine.

When Should You See a Doctor?

As a general rule, you should seek out medical care for any skin condition that seems unusual.

"If it's bleeding, if it hurts, if it's draining, if it's a lump or bump that is rapidly increasing in size, a mole that has changed, or it's something you can't explain," you should get it checked out, Gibbs said.

Start with your primary care health care professional, he suggested.

That's because there are relatively few dermatology specialists, both in the military and the civilian health care systems. Appointments with dermatologists are hard to come by and may take months to get, Gibbs said.

Meanwhile, the dermatology problem could get worse, Gibbs cautioned.

What about Deployments?

Yetto detailed how at Bremerton approximately four to five patients per month become non-deployable due to a skin problem or related medication. That might be temporary, or a sign of a medical condition that prevents deployments permanently, such as an immune system disease.

Service members who work with potentially harmful chemicals may be especially at risk. "If you are exposed to chemicals at work, make sure you protect your skin because they can be damaging or could be absorbed," Nguyen said.

Some younger service members with skin conditions may try to treat themselves. Be careful – some over-the-counter treatments can make the initial problem worse, Nguyen said.

Some chemicals can cause a bad reaction – even common chemicals found in your body wash or in your duty uniform, Nguyen said. Painful skin problems could affect your ability to do your daily work or function in your personal life.

To counter that risk, Nguyen suggests using products with minimal chemicals.

You can find more information about dermatology on the TRICARE website.

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Last Updated: May 12, 2022

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