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When keeping tabs on your health don't forget about your skin. Treatment for childhood cancer can damage this often overlooked organ, which is the body's first line of defense against outside invaders, like germs.
Survivors who received radiation to any part of the body, including total body irradiation are at risk for skin damage, including skin cancer. Those who have chronic graft-versus-host-disease (GVHD) from a bone marrow or stem cell transplant may also develop skin problems, such as scleroderma and vitiligo.
The long-term effects of radiation on your skin are generally mild and occur within the radiation field. They include the following conditions:
The long-term effects of graft-versus host disease (GVHD) include scleroderma and vitiligo. Therapy for both centers around treating the underlying GVHD.
Check your skin monthly and have a clinician examine it at least yearly if you have any of the following factors that increase risk for skin problems:
If you have moles, look for "ABCD" warning signs:
Asymmetry – one half of the mole looks different than the other half.
Border – the border of the mole is irregular, scalloped, or poorly defined.
Color – changes in color appear from one area of the mole to another area.
Diameter – the mole is larger than 6 millimeters, about as wide as a pencil eraser.
Have your doctor check out moles with any of these signs. It might need to be removed.
Here are some other ways to protect your skin:
Ask your doctor to check your skin at least yearly if you had radiation or if you have any other risk factors for skin problems.