The Insider's Guide to Preventing Skin Cancer

June 4, 2018

Summer is here and it’s the perfect time to talk about skin health! 

 

Despite being the largest organ in our bodies, our skin is often overlooked when it comes to overall health and wellness.

 

Since starting a new job as a Medical Assistant at Western Maryland Dermatology about a month ago, I've been completely blown away by the large number of patients visiting the office who either have/have had skin cancers or who have pre-cancers. 

 

Until a few weeks ago, I had NO idea skin cancer is as common as it is.  It's also totally treatable if caught early, and even preventable in many cases. 

 

I now have a new passion for educating others about what I've learned in a few short weeks.  Warning: I may geek out just a little bit on the medical stuff.  I can't help it!  It's just so fascinating!

 

 

Interesting Stats & Facts

 

Did you know...

  • More than 5.4 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer were treated in over 3.3 million people in the U.S. in 2012, the most recent year new statistics were available.
     

  • More people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year in the U.S. than with all other cancers combined.
     

  • One in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70.
     

  • Skin cancers are generally curable if caught early.  Even melanoma, which can be deadly, has a cure rate of almost 100% when treated early.  
     

  • People who have had skin cancer are at a higher risk of developing a new one, which is why regular self-examination and doctor visits are imperative.
     

  • Melanoma is the leading cause of cancer death in young women ages 25-30 and the second leading cause of cancer death in women ages 30-35.
     

  • In the past decade (2008 – 2018) the number of new melanoma cases diagnosed annually has increased by 53 percent.
     

 

Most skin cancers fall into one of three types.

 

 

So what's the difference?

  • Actinic keratosis (AK) is the most common pre-cancer that affects more than 58 million Americans each year.  AKs are dry, scaly, rough-textured spots on the skin.  If not caught and removed, they may turn into Squamous Cell Carcinoma.  The most common way to remove them is to freeze them with liquid nitrogen. 
     

  • Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) is the most common form of skin cancer. Basal cells reside in the deepest layer of the epidermis, along with hair follicles and sweat ducts. When a person is overexposed to UVB radiation, it damages the body’s natural repair system, which causes BCCs to grow.  They appear on the skin in many shapes and sizes, such as s dome-shaped growth with visible blood vessels; a shiny, pinkish patch; or a sore that heals and returns.  BCC rarely spreads to other areas of the body, but if left untreated it can grow deep into tissue and bone. 
     

  • Squamous Cell Cancer (SCC) is the second most common type of skin cancer.   It appears on the skin in many shapes, but often presents itself as a crusted or scaly patch of skin with an inflamed, red base.  They sometimes bleed and are often tender to the touch. It is estimated that 250,000 new cases of SCC are diagnosed annually and that 2,500 of them result in death.  If not removed, SCC can spread to other parts of the body, making treatment difficult.
     

  • Melanoma – While melanoma is the least common type of skin cancer, it is by far the deadliest form.  It is also the most common form of cancer among young adults age 25 to 29.  Melanomas may develop on normal skin or in an existing mole and often present as dark brown or black spots on the skin. Melanomas spread rapidly to internal organs and the lymph system, making them quite dangerous. Early detection is critical for curing this skin cancer, and this is why it's important for people to conduct regular self-examinations of their skin to detect any changes.

     

 

The great news?  If caught early, skin cancers can be treated!

 

 

Keys to early detection:

  • Visit a dermatologist for a full skin exam at least once a year.  It's quick, painless, and it could save your life!!  Note:  If you have a history of skin cancer, you should be checked more frequently.  Ask your dermatologist for their recommended schedule. 
     

  • Perform self- skin checks monthly to identify changes early.  Here are some things to look for:
     

    • Large brown spots with darker speckles located anywhere on the body.

    • Dark lesions on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet, fingertips toes, mouth, nose or genitalia.

    • Translucent pearly and dome-shaped growths.

    • Existing moles that begin to grow, itch or bleed.

    • Brown or black streaks under the nails.

    • A sore that repeatedly heals and re-opens.

    • Clusters of slow-growing scaly lesions that are pink or red.
       

  • Be aware of the ABCDEs of spotting melanoma.

 

 

The ABCDEs of Melanoma Chart

 

 

Did you know that roughly 90% of non-melanoma cancers are attributable to ultraviolet radiation from the sun?

 

 

Be diligent about sun protection:

  • Apply at least SPF 30 sunscreen to exposed skin when you will be outside for longer than 20 minutes.
     

  • Reapply sunscreen every 3 hours, after exercising, after swimming, or while kayaking :-)
     

  • Apply sunscreen even on cloudy days!
     

  • Use a sunscreen that offers protection from both UVA & UVB rays.*
     

  • Wear a hat to protect your scalp and face. 
     

  • Don’t forget about your ears and lips!
     

  • Avoid tanning beds.  UV light can cause skin cancer and wrinkling. 

 

*Some sunscreens can contain harmful chemicals.  Check out the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) 2018 guide to the least toxic, best performing sunscreens.

 

 

 

As a former "sun worshipper" and someone who still spends a ton of time in the sun now, I’ve become much more diligent about doing skin checks and using sunscreen.

 

 

 

I've had a faint spot on my right cheek for the past few years that really looked more like a sun spot. 

 

Nina, the amazing PA-C at Western Maryland Dermatology noticed it contained multiple colors, which can indicate pre-cancer, and advised we freeze it off.  This is a common procedure known as cryotherapy.

 

It took less than twenty seconds and it really didn't hurt at all.  Seriously!  I would rate it a 2 1/2 on a 1 to 10 pain scale.  I didn't even flinch! 

 

This is a picture of the spot the day after the procedure.  This bad boy has now blistered up and will be gone in just a few days.  

 

Skin cancer averted!  Easy as that! 

 

Now...it's your turn.  I encourage you to make that appointment for a skin check that you've been putting off.  You won't regret it.  I promise!

 

References:

 

https://wmderma.com/skin-cancer/

 

https://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/skin-cancer-facts

 

https://www.skincancerprevention.org/skin-cancer

 

Cancer Facts and Figures 2008. American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/content/dam/cancer-org/research/cancer-facts-and-statistics/annual-cancer-facts-and-figures/2008/cancer-facts-and-figures-2008.pdf.

 

 

 

Janelle is a Certified Health Coach, Certified Personal Trainer, and Group Fitness Instructor who is passionate about helping people find their best health and happiness.  She specializes in helping those with Crohn's and other autoimmune diseases optimize their nutrition and lifestyle to allow them reclaim their health.  Whether you want to make big changes, or simply want to learn how to bring healthier choices and more energy into your life, she can help!!  

 

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