This post is brought to you by Scarsdale Medical Group.
May is skin cancer awareness and detection month, so we spoke with the dermatology team at Scarsdale Medical Group to answer your questions about skin cancer. Be safe this summer!
What kind of skin irregularities are worrisome and what aren’t?
Basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma can look like a pearly or shiny bump, usually on a sun-exposed area. It can also be a red, firm bump or a scaly, pinkish patch. Melanoma, on the other hand, can be any pigmented lesion that has any of the ABCDE characteristics: Asymmetry, or one side that doesn’t look like the other; Border irregularity or blurred, non-sharp borders; Color of more than one shade of brown or brown mixed with black, red or blue; Diameter more than 6 millimeters in size, or about the size of a pencil eraser (however, if a lesion has all the other features and it is less than 6 millimeters in size, it can still be worrisome); Evolving, meaning any lesion that has changed. All of these characteristics are suspicious and should be evaluated by a professional.
If I don’t notice anything different, can I skip my annual skin check?
If you have been advised by your physician to have annual skin checks, you should not skip this appointment, even if you don’t notice anything new or changing. Not everyone needs a full skin check every year, however, so you should do what your dermatologist recommends.
Beyond the yearly skin check, what are some red flags to be on the look out for?
Anyone who has a history of skin cancer, even if it was many years ago, should have a skin check at a regular interval. Anyone with a family history of melanoma should have a skin exam every year, and maybe even more frequently, depending on your skin type. Anyone who has a history of excess sun exposure, currently or in the past, should have regular skin exams. An important risk factor is the use of tanning beds, especially at a young age. Also, anyone who has numerous moles or birthmarks is at an increased risk of developing melanoma-type skin cancer.
If someone had excess sun exposure in their younger years, is there anything they can do as an adult to prevent skin cancer from this early exposure?
It is important to use sun protection daily and to have regular visits with a dermatologist to detect lesions called Actinic Keratosis, or precancerous growths. There are many effective ways to treat these precancerous lesions, thus preventing their development into skin cancer. Additionally, if the sun damage is severe, there are topical creams, peels and laser treatments that can be useful in reversing the sun-damaged skin back to a healthier condition.
Is skin cancer becoming more common?
It does appear that there are more diagnoses of basal cell, squamous cell and melanoma than ever before. The good news is that we are better at diagnosing it earlier and curing it before it has a chance to spread.
What are some common myths surrounding skin cancer?
There are two very common myths.
People of color do not get skin cancer. People of color can get skin cancer, although it is less likely than in Caucasian individuals.
You cannot get skin cancer on a non-exposed area of skin. Although basal cell and squamous cell skin cancer are usually found on sun-exposed areas, melanoma can arise in any area, including on the scalp and under the nails.
What is your top line advice for protecting your skin?
Wear sun protection of at least SPF 30 to all exposed skin 365 days a year.
Disclaimer: Please be advised that these responses are for informational purposes only. The advice given in this article is not meant to replace the advice of your personal physician. No formal diagnosis of any condition can be made without a physician, and if you are concerned about any skin issues, you should see your dermatologist for evaluation and treatment.
Scarsdale Medical Group, 550 Mamaroneck Avenue, Suite 101, Harrison; 914-723-8100