May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month. According to the 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 exactly 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 use.
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
two ounces of sunblock lotion on all sun exposed areas and reapply
every two hours.
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 away point is change. If you see a 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 the 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 is typically 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. If you see a 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.
So as we are finally coming out of this cold long winter, let’s remember to have fun in the sun but protect our skin too. If you have a history of skin cancer or suspicious moles or
other spots, schedule your skin cancer screening today.
Calvert Dermatology is accepting new patients. To schedule an appointment call 410-535-4561 or for more information visit www.calvertdermatology.com.