5 Things Your Dermatology Provider Wants You to Know About Skin Cancer
Having practiced dermatology for more than 15 years, I’ve treated a considerable number of skin cancer cases. The good news is that, between myself and our talented Berks Plastic Surgery plastic surgeons, Dr. Reedy and Dr. Lindsay, the vast majority of these patients have gone on to heal beautifully after skin cancer removal and follow-up treatments. The flip side to this good news? Many of these cases could have been prevented.
Unfortunately, the real facts about skin cancer often get buried beneath conventional wisdom—for instance, how many people consider sunscreen a summer-vacation-only item, or believe that those who tan well don’t have to worry about skin cancer?
While I always encourage routine visits to your dermatology provider, I would rather that visit not result in a skin cancer diagnosis. With this in mind, I’ve shared a few things everyone should know about the risks and how to prevent skin cancer as best as possible.
1. Everyone is at risk, even those with dark skin
Society tends to associate skin cancer with fair-skinned, light-haired people, but this is a mistake. Did you know that black and brown skinned patients are more likely to die from melanoma than light-skinned patients, despite the former being at a lower overall risk for the disease? The problem is, darker skinned patients often don’t receive a diagnosis until skin cancer is in later stages and more difficult to treat.
What you can do: no matter what skin type you have, maintain a relationship with a trusted dermatology provider and perform monthly head-to-toe self skin checks to track changes, using the ABCDEs of skin cancer as your guide. If you notice anything of concern, make an appointment as soon as possible—it’s better to be safe than sorry.
2. Every sunburn raises your risk of skin cancer
A sunburn is visible evidence that your skin cells have already incurred DNA damage from the sun’s UV radiation, which can lead to premature wrinkles and discoloration as well as increase your risk of developing skin cancer. Moreover, it only takes few bad sunburns early in life to double your risk for the deadliest form of skin cancer, melanoma.
What you can do: apply sunscreen to exposed skin before going outdoors any time of year. Dermatology experts generally agree that broad spectrum SPF 30 or higher is the minimum needed for optimal protection. Broad spectrum sunscreens guard against both UVA and UVB rays (both can cause skin cancer), and SPF 30 filters out about 97% of UV rays.
3. You can get skin cancer where the sun doesn’t shine
Sun exposure may be one of the primary causes of skin cancer, but that doesn’t mean areas that rarely see sunlight are safe. I have seen skin cancer present on soles of feet, armpits, hidden areas of the scalp, genitals, inside the mouth, and under fingernails. You can also get skin cancer in your eyes, a condition called ocular melanoma.
What you can do: again, perform self skin-checks monthly, making sure to check these less obvious areas for unusual moles, bumps or changes in color. If you notice anything, consult your dermatology provider.
4. Certain medications, cosmetic treatments, and other factors can make your skin more vulnerable
Many common medications for treating autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or Crohn’s disease, as well as post-transplant medications, reduce your skin’s ability to cope with the sun and make you more sensitive to sunburns and ultimately, skin cancer. Skin resurfacing treatments, which remove outer layers of skin, also temporarily increase sun sensitivity.
Additional factors that influence your risk include genetics, a history of HPV or HHV viruses, and even your gender—as reported in this statement from the U.S. Surgeon General, men are more likely to be diagnosed with all types of skin cancer, likely because of their higher propensity to work outside and lower propensity to apply sunscreen.
What you can do: tell your dermatology provider about your medical history and any treatments you are receiving. If anything puts you at higher risk, they can tell you how to protect your skin. Make sure you understand the potential side effects of any medication you are taking, read and follow instructions when you take prescriptions. While increased sun sensitivity following cosmetic facial treatments is temporary, you should plan to stay out of the sun for several weeks post-treatment, as well as be extra vigilant about protecting your refreshed skin with SPF, clothing, and/or eyewear. Doing so will also help you get better aesthetic results.
5. Most skin cancers are highly treatable—if caught early
Now for some good news. The majority of skin cancer cases are basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma, both of which are almost always 100% curable if treated in the early stages. However, left to progress, even these cancers may require removing a large portion of tissue, which usually means a complex surgery to restore a normal appearance to the area.
Early detection is essential in the case of melanoma. If caught early, while still in the upper layers of the skin, melanoma can usually be removed completely. However, if it spreads, melanoma is very hard to treat and can be deadly—in fact, 1 in 9 patients die from it.
What you can do: put all of the above tips together. Apply broad-spectrum SPF daily, be vigilant about changes to your skin, and above all, see your dermatology provider ASAP about any concerns you have.
Take the first step against skin cancer now: make an appointment with your dermatology provider
I hope you feel better equipped to protect yourself against skin cancer after reading these points. Whether you have a current skin concern or not, it’s never too early to establish a relationship with an experienced dermatology provider. If you are live near Reading, skin cancer removal, screening, and diagnosis are among the services I provide here at Berks Plastic Surgery. I encourage you to contact our office and schedule an appointment today.