May/June Southern Maryland Women Magazine-Skin Cancer Patient Education Article.
May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month. According to Skin Cancer Foundation, the
diagnosis and treatment of nonmelanoma skin cancers in the U.S. has increased by 77
percent between 1994 and 2014. This trend is very evident in Southern Maryland as
well. At Calvert Dermatology, we take a special interest in skin cancer screening and
treatment. The following are questions commonly asked by patients in our practice.
Q. What is skin cancer?
A. Skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells. It occurs when skin
DNA is damaged, triggering mutations that cause abnormal growth of the skin. The
most common cause of this skin damage is ultraviolet light from the sun or tanning bed
Q. How do I know if I have a skin cancer?
A. Skin cancer can appear in various different sizes, shapes and colors. It can occur in
an existing mole or as a new spot. The main take take away point is change. If you see
change in color, shape or size of an existing or new skin growth, then that area should
be evaluated by a dermatologist for possible biopsy to rule out skin cancer. The
acronym ABCDE is helpful. A skin lesion may need biopsy if it is Asymmetric in
appearance, has irregular Borders, has multiple Colors, has a large Diameter (wider
then a pencil eraser), or is Evolving. We recommend that you check your skin monthly,
looking for any of these warning signs. According to the American Academy of
dermatology, about half of melanoma skin cancers are self detected.
Q. What can be done if I develop a skin cancer?
A. Treatment for skin cancer is dictated by they type and size of the skin cancer. The
most common treatment for basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma is an in
office procedure called electrodessication and curettage. This is where a small tool is
used to essentially cauterize the skin cancer. Mohs surgery is a specific method of skin
cancer removal. It is an in office, skin sparing procedure that can be used to treat head
and neck skin cancers. This allows for a more cosmetically pleasing outcome with a
reliable cure. Melanoma, an aggressive type of skin cancer, requires a larger excision
that can be done in office for smaller lesions and in hospital for larger lesions. If surgery
is not appropriate for a patient, other options such as radiation therapies are available.
Your dermatologist can help you determine what is the right treatment for you.
Q. Am I at risk for skin cancer?
A. Any person can be at risk for developing a skin cancer regardless of skin type.
There are several factors that increase one’s risk. Having a fair skin type is one.
Although those with skin of color are at much less risk compared to lighter skin types,
they are not necessarily out of the woods. Persons with dark skin may develop skin
cancer in areas of less pigmentation such as the palms of hands, soles of feet, under
the fingernails and inside the mouth. Jamaican singer Bob Marley died at age 36 of
melanoma that started under his toenail.
Another factor that increases one’s risk for skin cancer is prolonged exposure to
ultraviolet light such as sunlight or with tanning bed use. Tanning beds are considered a
carcinogen in this country and some other countries have even banned their use
because of this. Having a compromised immune system can increase one’s risk as well.
Such as with those taking anti rejection medication in organ transplant and with
advanced age. Risk for skin cancer can be genetic as well. Those with a family history
of skin cancer are at a higher risk.
Q. How can I prevent skin cancer and what type of sunblock should I use?
A. Most of us know that a main way in which to prevent skin cancer is to cover up.
Wear sun protective clothing, a wide brimmed hat and sunglasses. Seek shade,
especially during peak sun intensity hours of 10AM to 4PM. Also, use a broad spectrum
sunblock lotion of SPF 30 or greater. Water resistant sunscreen protects for up to 40
minutes so reapplication after sweating or swimming is important. Using a sunblock
lotion is better than spray sunblock products in our opinion. The concern is that the
spray distribution may not be sufficient. The American Academy of dermatology
recommends using 2 ounces of sunblock lotion to all sun exposed areas and reapply
every 2 hours. So as we are finally coming out of this cold long winter, lets remember to
have fun in the sun but protect our skin too.