Is Your Skin Spot Cancerous? The Skinny on Moles

The importance of wearing sunscreen to prevent skin cancer has been drilled into your head since the day you were born. But you’re way too young to start inspecting yourself for iffy moles, right? Actually, say dermatologists, you’re not. Dr. Jessica Krant, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center and founder of Art of Dermatology in New York City, says the time to start is now. “If you get used to how your moles and skin look when nothing is wrong, you’ll be ready to notice changes over time,” she explains, adding that, though rare, “skin cancer does occur in teens and even in children, so there really is no age too young to start knowing your skin.” But how can you “know” your skin? When is a mole just a mole, and when is it a sign of something worse? To answer these questions and more, here are three healthy habits you should be using to keep tabs on your body’s largest organ.

No. 1: Get an annual checkup.
Make an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist for a complete head-to-toe skin cancer screening. For most people, this will become an annual event, but depending on your skin type and coloring, sun exposure, and family skin cancer history, you may need to go more often. “Everyone is truly different, so your dermatologist should work with you to figure out the schedule that works best for your situation,” says Krant.

No. 2: Check yourself using the ABCDE’s.
In between dermatological visits, you need to inspect your own skin. In order to get to know what’s normal for you, Krant suggests looking at easy-to-see spots once a month. Less visible areas can be looked at every four to six months. Although cancers are more likely to develop in parts of the body that are more exposed to the sun, they can still form in areas the sun doesn’t see. That means a complete skin exam includes the bottoms of your feet, in between your toes, your scalp and your underwear area. “Use a mirror to look at hard-to-see areas,” says Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research for the Department of Dermatology of Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. “Ask your wife or girlfriend to check out your back.”

What you’re looking for, says Zeichner, is the ABCDE’s of moles.

A = Asymmetry, when one side of the mole does not look like the other side
B = Border, when the border of the mole is irregular and not round
C = Color, when there are various shades of brown, black, blue, or white in the mole
D = Diameter changing (according to Krant, dermatologists used to warn against moles that are larger than a pencil eraser, but doctors now know that melanomas can be smaller)
E = Evolution, when the mole changes over time

Another general guideline, says Krant, is to search for anything that looks different from when you last saw it or that doesn’t look like most of the other marks on you. “There are three main types of skin cancer,” she explains. “Each is formed when a different skin cell type goes bad.” When a brown mole turns malignant, it forms melanoma, the least common but deadliest skin cancer. But there is also a type of melanoma that has no brown pigment; it can look pink or red and is easily overlooked. “Basal cell carcinoma, the most common type of skin cancer, can appear as a clear ‘pearly’ bump, a flat white scar-like patch, or a pimple-like sore that may bleed and heal and then bleed again,” says Krant. Squamous cell carcinoma often appears as a flaky, scaly red bump, or a small patch that looks like a rash but won’t heal.

No. 3: When in doubt, call a professional.
With all the different places on your body to check and all the different types of spots to look out for, it can feel overwhelming. Just do the best you can to keep track of your skin, and head to your specialist if you spy something that makes you uneasy. At the very least, he or she will reassure you that it’s benign. And if it isn’t, rest assured you did the right thing: All three types of skin cancers are potentially deadly, but they’re also curable if caught early.

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/zuzusaturn

5 Colors to Pile on Your Plate

Want more energy? Improved stamina? Calmer nerves? Eat your colors and harness the power of phytochemicals -- organic compounds found in fruits and vegetables that endow them with their respective colors, each of which bestows unique nutritional benefits.

Carolyn Dean -- a physician, a neuropathic doctor and the medical director of the nonprofit Nutritional Magnesium Association (NutritionalMagnesium.org) -- has been following the rainbow for years. We asked her to explain the various properties of red, orange, green, white and blue foods so you can better balance your diet and attack specific health issues.

Reds
What to eat:
Tomatoes, beets, red apples, cranberries, red grapes, pomegranates, raspberries, strawberries, watermelon and red peppers.
Why:
The same fruits and veggies responsible for staining your best dress shirts are also believed to fight prostate cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and -- listen up, guys -- male infertility. According to Dean, crimson-colored crops contain varying amounts of lycopene and anthocyanin, two naturally occurring chemicals in plants that are as rich in antioxidants as they are in difficult-to-pronounce syllables. Antioxidants, of course, are powerful molecules that cruise around your body, bonding to and safely defusing other less stable molecules (called free radicals, man!), which, if left unchecked, could cause you some serious cellular damage.

Oranges and Yellows
What to eat:
Oranges, papayas, pumpkins, carrots, yellow squash, lemons, sweet corn and pineapples
Why:
Sure, a tall glass of Tang can deliver your daily dose of vitamin C, which aids in the healing of wounds and the synthesis of collagen. But actual oranges and similarly shaded foods also provide you with the pigments alpha- and beta-carotene. “Beta-carotene is a precursor to vitamin A,” says Dean. “The body converts this compound into vitamin A, which in turn promotes healthy vision, strong bones and smooth skin.” Got psoriasis? Eat more oranges.

Greens
What to eat:
Spinach, green apples, honeydew, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and avocados.
Why:
Milk may do the body good, but spinach may do the body even better. Greens are actually packed with higher and more absorbable concentrations of calcium than dairy products. They also contain the phytochemicals lutein and zeaxanthin, which are important for vision. “And that’s to speak nothing of the chlorophyll in greens, which is a great detoxifier,” says Dean. “Kelp in particular is high in magnesium, an important nutrient in over 325 chemical activities in your body!” As a rule of thumb, the darker the green, the more chock-full of nutrients it is.

Whites
What to Eat:
Pears, bananas, cauliflower, potatoes, mushrooms, onions and garlic.
Why:
When you feel the need to chill out, reach for an onion. The aromatic bulb, like many white-ish veggies, is rich in the compound allicin. “This powerful antioxidant is known to combat high blood pressure and high LDL levels,” says Dean. Pale fruits and veggies are also packed with nutrients that are believed to stimulate your body’s B and T cells, which in turn boost your overall immune system. “And let’s not forget about bananas and potatoes, which are high in heart-healthy potassium,” says Dean.

Blues and Purples
What to eat:
Blueberries, blackberries, plums, purple grapes, beets, purple cabbage and eggplant.
Why:
Once upon a time, blueberries were largely ignored by nutritionists because of the fruit’s low level of vitamin C. Now, the same group of experts is tripping over itself to recommend that you eat 1 to 2 cups of the fruit every day. Why? “They’re high in anthocyanins, which can reduce the risk of high blood pressure and improve heart health,” says Dean. Blue fruits and veggies are also high in fiber and packed with antioxidants, and have been shown to reduce the risk of some male cancers. What can’t they do? They can’t make you fat, since they’re really low in calories too. Yahtzee!

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/Tanya_F

Ramp up Your Summer Pickup Game Performance

You never know when you might get drafted to play basketball, flag football or even toss a flying disc. Here's how you can be better in each.

With all pickup sports, the top goals are simple: Get some exercise and have some fun. (After all, it is summer … and you're probably not in a contract year.) However, to stay in the game -- and be picked for a future one -- being a good, if not great, player goes a long way.

Here are three top warm-month pickup sports and how you can turn it up a couple of notches in each.

Pickup Basketball
If you're playing pickup basketball, often many other players are waiting on the sideline to get in the next game. In other words, helping your team win, and staying on the court, is motivation numero uno.

Offense: Consider this your chance to be that unselfish, pass-first player you always wanted to be. Meanwhile, observe how your man plays you. Does he slough off until you have the ball? If so, fake him out: Go go one way then quick-change direction. And to get layup opportunities, rush for those open spots on the floor.

Defense: Of course, playing defense is half the game, but you'd never know it by looking at most pickup games. If you’re on D, distinguish yourself by shutting down the guy you're guarding. Quickly diagnose if he favors going left or right, then force him away from his strength -- even top-level players often struggle going away from their strong side. Similarly, most players are either penetrators or shooters. Make the penetrator throw “bricks” and crowd the shooter.

You may be surprised at how far these strategies can go to throw off the mental game of your opponent.

Flag Football
First, know the basic rules: Flag football usually consists of seven-man teams rather than 11, all players are eligible to receive a pass, and you need 20 yards (rather than 10) for a first down.

Speed: And now, the stating of the obvious: Speed kills the competition, especially in flag football. Whether you need to get open on passing routes, sprint away from diving defenders, or -- if you're the quarterback -- buy time in the pocket, speed is prized. The best way to achieve it? Always break -- while heading downfield, of course -- toward the sideline after getting the ball, since defenders tend to hover midfield. Also, the fast guy doesn’t lose his flags.

Ball handling: Ability here is also key. To prevent the fatal fumble, carry the football in the arm farthest from a pursuing defender. When catching the ball, always make your hands do the work -- spreading your fingers and keeping them relaxed to ease the catch -- before bringing them into your body. And use the lateral pass, when the opportunity’s there, to further advance the ball and surprise the opponent.

Defense: On defense, adopt an aggressive style that often forces opponents to make blunders, like fumbling the ball or throwing interceptions. Also, attempt to funnel opposing players toward midfield for easier flag grabs.

Ultimate Flying Disc
Like flag football, Ultimate is a fast-paced sport played with two teams of seven people on grassy, football-field-sized turf. Play starts when the defensive team throws the disc to the other team. Once a player catches it, he has 10 seconds to pass. If the 10 seconds elapse before passing or if the disc is dropped, blocked, intercepted, thrown out of bounds or simply not caught, possession transfers to the other team. Passes can go backward or forward.

The hardest part is learning the three throws: the backhand, the forehand (aka flick) and the hammer. You'll need to know how to do all three because the defense will force you to throw to different sides and release at different heights.

The backhand is your standard throw: Grab the disc with your thumb on top, index finger on the inside edge and the other three fingers extended underneath. Hold the disc parallel to the ground and point your feet perpendicular to your target. Bring your throwing arm across your body until the disc is near your nonthrowing shoulder. Begin the throw with your shoulder leading and straighten your elbow. Release it with a snap of your wrist when it's directly in front of you. This toss is usually used to throw left (or right for left-handers).

The forehand is that awkward flicky toss you use to throw to the right (or left for left-handers). Proper form may require practice: Extend your hand as if to shake hands. Place your index and middle fingers on the inside edge of the disc, and your thumb on the outside top. Hold the disc parallel to the ground, right side up. Bring your arm back and bend your wrist so it's perpendicular to your forearm. Drop your throwing shoulder several inches below your other shoulder. Begin the throw with your elbow leading the way. Flick your wrist with a quick snap so your middle finger is the last point of contact with the disc.

The hammer is the loopy upside-down throw that will also require practice to throw … and catch. Its grip is the same as the forehand. Draw the disc back along your head to your ear, much like you're throwing a baseball. Hold it almost vertically, with the top of the disc parallel to your cheek, the palm of your throwing hand about where your ear is, and the disc a little behind. Whip your arm forward, bringing the disc over your head, as you step forward. Extend your arm in front of your body and twist your elbow forward to snap your wrist to give the throw some good spin. The natural spin of the throw released upside down will pull the disc away from vertical toward a horizontal float.

Give Your Feet a Makeover

Tired of wearing Nikes to the beach to contain the smell? Sitting on your heels at picnics to hide your hideous feet from view? MLT talked to foot experts about the most common problems that affect our most used and abused appendages, and how to fix them. You might never make it as a foot model, but your paws will be good-looking enough to take out of hiding.

Problem: Smelly Shoes

What it is: No need to explain … we’ve all experienced it at some point.

Why you have it: Odor-causing bacteria thrive in dark, damp spaces, making your sweaty shoes an ideal environment.
How to get rid of it: Wear socks made of natural fibers and alternate between different pairs of shoes daily to give them time to dry. You can also spray them with Lysol or special shoe spray designed to exterminate odor, sprinkle them with medicated foot powder or baking powder, or simply pop them in a Ziploc bag and stick it in the freezer overnight. “The cold temperature will kill most odor-causing bacteria,” says Dr. Jacqueline Sutera, a podiatrist at Manhattan-based City Podiatry.

Problem: Smelly Feet

What it is: Pew! Even if you throw your shoes out the window, the smell won’t go away.
Why you have it: “Most times, smelly feet are caused by infection,” says Sutera. Telltale signs include yellow nails, blisters, flaky “dry” skin, peeling, itchy skin, rashes, and red or white rough patches.
How to get rid of it: If you spot any of these, make an appointment with a foot doctor. The problem will only get worse if left untreated. If, however, your feet look shipshape -- they just smell of rotten fish -- there are some simple steps you can take: Lather up and scrub in between your toes when you shower; then let them dry off completely. Dust them with a deodorizing foot powder or cornstarch to absorb moisture, or spritz with foot deodorant/antiperspirant, either over-the-counter or prescription-strength. “You can even try your favorite underarm deodorant,” suggests Sutera.

Problem: Corns and Calluses

What it is: “A callus generally refers to a more diffuse thickening of the skin, whereas a corn is thicker and more focalized,” says Dr. Jonah Mullens, a podiatrist with sports medical group SOAR in the San Francisco area. Most of the time the problem is just aesthetic, but sometimes it’s painful, infected, and won’t stop getting bigger. If that’s the case, see a podiatrist.
Why you have it: Corns and calluses are the result of skin thickening in response to excessive pressure -- from tight footwear, for example -- usually in combination with some friction. “The skin thickens to protect itself,” explains Mullens.
How to get rid of it: After showering, Sutera suggests using a pumice stone or foot file. Gently rub the toughened skin in one direction; if you go back and forth aggressively, you’ll just rip the skin and make it rougher. A special foot moisturizer with lactic acid, urea or alpha hydroxy acid should be used on a daily basis.

Problem: Fungus

What it is: Fungal infections of the feet (like athlete’s foot) can cause dry skin, redness, blisters, itching and peeling. Toenail fungus causes thick, brittle, discolored yellow nails that can be painful under pressure.
Why you have it: The warm, dark and moist environment in our shoes is the ideal place for fungus to grow. Sometimes it can spread to the nail. An injury from soccer or skiing, for instance, can create a damaged portion of the toenail where fungus can easily get in.
How to get rid of it: Try an over-the-counter antifungal powder or cream. If you don’t see results within two to four weeks, Mullens advises going to the doctor, who might prescribe an oral medicine. To prevent infections, keep feet clean and dry by wiping down the area between your toes after showering and changing your shoes and socks regularly.

Problem: Ingrown Toenails

What it is: Skin on the side of the toenail gets irritated, causing swelling, odor, pain and redness.
Why you have it: We’d make a bet you were a little too aggressive with that nail trimmer.
How to get rid of it: Cut your nails in a gently rounded shape, and avoid hacking into the corners. “If the skin does become inflamed, try soaking the toe for 10 to 15 minutes in warm water with Epsom salt three times daily,” says Dr. Jennifer Saam, a podiatrist in Bellevue, Wash. “If it’s not improving, you may need antibiotics or even a procedure to remove the offending portion of the nail.”

Problem: Dried, Cracked Heels

What it is: The skin around the edges of the heel thickens. Sometimes it cracks, which can be pretty painful, especially if the cracks are deep enough and get infected.
Why you have it: From going barefoot or wearing sandals or flip-flops regularly.
How to get rid of it: Once your skin softens in the shower, shave the hard spots with a callus razor. After toweling dry, slather on a good moisturizer. Do so right before bed, suggests Dr. Saam, and stick on a pair of socks so the moisture will penetrate your feet while you sleep.

Olympic Hopefuls: A Roundtable Discussion (Part 1)

How exactly do you train for the Olympics? What do you do on a day-to-day basis, in terms of weightlifting, cardio and other training specific to your sport? And what do you eat? Men’s Life Today talked to three U.S. Olympic hopefuls -- all in very different sports, but all of whom are affiliated with the New York Athletic Club -- about how real champions prepare to compete on sport’s biggest stage. These were our participants:

Jake Herbert, wrestler, age 26, born in Naperville, Ill.; 2009 World Freestyle, silver medalist

Seth Kelsey, fencer, age 29, born in Colorado Springs, Colo.; 2010 World Championships, silver medalist

Jarrod Shoemaker, triathlete, age 28, born in Maynard, Mass.; 2008 Olympian, USA Triathlon 2010 Elite National Champion

 

MLT: Most athletes today do some form of strength training. Can you tell us about your weight-training regimens?

Kelsey: “Pretty typical is three long lifts -- one hour and 45 minutes each session -- on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. We do squats, Olympic lifts, single-arm dumbbells, a lot of full-body movements. We always do core -- hanging leg raises and that kind of stuff. Also for fencing, we do a lot of forearm work.”

Herbert: “Right now, we lift three times a week -- Monday, Wednesday and Friday -- for about an hour and a half. We have a strength coach there for us, and it’s all geared toward explosive, fast-twitch muscle fiber stuff. So we’ll do successively heavier sets of front squats, cleans, close grip bench, explosive push-ups off the medicine ball, dead lifts. We also do weighted pull-ups. Our coach wants us to get to the point where we can do them with a 100-pound plate strapped to us.”

Shoemaker: “We’re not doing squats and cleans, or really any traditional weightlifting. As endurance athletes, it’s more focused on enhancing and strengthening the core and on functional flexibility … very discipline-specific movements.”

MLT: What’s the most kick-ass cardio workout you do?

Shoemaker: “We do a really hard, tempo-running workout: 2 x 2 miles with five minutes rest between. Then run a mile [2 miles, five minutes rest, 2 miles, five minutes rest, 1 mile]. I’m getting down below a 4:45 pace.”

Kelsey: “What we call our most terrible circuit workouts: incline sprints, kettle ball swings, push-ups and pull ups. Nonstop, five times.”

Herbert: “We do treadmill sprints: 30 seconds hard, 30 seconds off. And every time we do one, our coach raises the incline. And then ups the speed. We do a total of anywhere from 22 to 40 of these, and at the end, you’re on max incline and running 14 miles per hour for 30 seconds.”

MLT: Sounds like you push yourselves to exhaustion.

Kelsey: “I need to know how my body feels when it’s drop-dead tired. Because any moment of hesitation in my sport and you get hit.”

MLT: So I imagine recovery must be a big issue too.

Herbert: “We drink a recovery shake after each workout, to get the amino acids back in us. I get a lot of sleep. And stretching’s huge!”

Shoemaker: “Massage once a week at least, chiropractic once a week, and I shoot for nine hours of quality sleep a night. That’s the most important thing I do for recovery.”

MLT: Let’s talk nutrition: What’s the breakfast -- and lunch and dinner -- of Olympic champions?

Kelsey: “We do a fairly low-carb diet. No refined carbohydrates -- i.e., no white flour, sugar or potatoes. I don’t think those do anything to enhance your training.”

Herbert: “In college, I was living off of Hot Pockets and ranch dressing. Now, I’m eating a lot of fruits and vegetables.”

Shoemaker: “There’s nothing crazy about our diet. We try to eat fresh and healthy, and stay away from processed foods as much as possible. We have a pretty high percentage of carbs, but protein is one of the best things for rebuilding muscles, so we try to eat plenty of quality proteins too.”

Photos: Courtesy of New York Athletic Club