Prevention and Detection
June 02, 2017
Submitted by Doug Leone, MD and Adrienne Schupbach, MD, Dermatology and Mohs Surgery Institute
One in five Americans will get skin cancer in their lifetime. Melanoma, the most lethal form of skin cancer, has steadily increased over the past three decades to the rate of one American dying an hour from it, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Detecting skin cancer, especially melanoma, when it is most treatable is key to survival. Fortunately, you can take steps to reduce your risk of getting skin cancer and improve your chances of catching it in its most curable stages.
Preventing skin cancer
While no type of cancer is 100-percent preventable, you can do a lot to minimize your risk of developing skin cancer. The best prevention is to protect yourself from the sun:
Detecting skin cancer
- Do not use tanning beds. Multiple studies have found that indoor tanning increases your risk of melanoma by 75 percent, and the risk grows with every use.
- Avoid outdoor activities during the middle of the day if possible.
- Protect yourself from the sun's rays reflected by sand, water, snow, ice, and pavement. The sun's rays can go through light clothing, windshields, windows, and clouds.
- Wear a hat with a wide brim all around that shades your face, neck, and ears. Keep in mind that baseball caps and sun visors protect only parts of your skin.
- Wear sunglasses that absorb UV radiation to protect the skin around your eyes.
- Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF of 30 that filters both UVB and UVA radiation. Even though sunscreen lotions are effective, it is still a good idea to try to avoid the sun during the middle of the day and wear clothing to protect your skin.
Detecting skin cancer when it is most curable is one of the most important ways to ensure a positive outcome for skin cancer treatment. Your detection efforts should include regular self-checks. The best time to do this exam is after a shower or bath in a room with plenty of light using a full-length mirror and a hand-held mirror. Begin by learning where your birthmarks, moles, and other marks are and their usual look and feel.
Check for anything new such as the following markings:
- A new mole (that looks different from your other moles)
- A new red or darker-colored flaky patch that may be a little raised
- A new flesh-colored firm bump
- A change in the size, shape, color, or feel of a mole
- A sore that doesn't heal
Don't rely on smartphone technology for diagnosis. Some consumers are using smartphone applications for medical guidance on irregular moles. A recent study found that these apps are not reliable tools, with three out of four applications incorrectly classifying 30 percent or more of melanomas as unconcerning.
You should also see a dermatologist for an annual skin cancer check. Dermatologists are trained to spot abnormalities that you can’t see or may have missed.
Treating skin cancer
If your dermatologist finds skin cancer, the treatment will depend on the type and stage of the disease, the size and place of the tumor, and your general health and medical history. In most cases, the goal of treatment is to remove or destroy the cancer completely. Patients whose melanoma is diagnosed when it is most curable have a survival rate of 97 percent. Discuss your options with your doctor, and work in tandem with health care providers to ensure the best possible outcome for any treatment.
Mohs' micrographic surgery (MMS) is an advanced surgical technique to treat non-melanoma skin cancer. Individual layers of cancer tissue are removed and examined under a microscope one at a time until all cancer tissue has been removed. This type of surgery removes as little normal tissue as possible and is especially recommended for skin cancer on the face. The advantage of MMS is that it ensures complete removal of all cancer cells and spares surrounding normal skin tissue. This is important because it minimizes the size of the defect, allowing for less complex and more successful aesthetic reconstruction.
While skin cancer is one of the most common types of cancer, it is also the most preventable. Taking steps to reduce your risk and catching skin problems before they become life threatening can help your skin stay healthy and cancer-free throughout your lifetime.
For more information, you may contact the Dermatology and Mohs Surgery Institute at 309- 451- DERM (3376), www.exceptionalskin1.com. Dr. Leone and Dr. Schupbach are local, board-certified dermatologists, specializing in medical and cosmetic dermatology, including the treatment of skin cancer, moles, acne, rashes, warts, and all skin disorders. Dr. Leone is one of the few Mohs-trained surgeons in the area. Their new practice, located at 3024 E. Empire St. 2nd floor in Bloomington, is now open with immediate availability.
Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. Often the first sign of melanoma is a change in the size, shape, color, or feel of a mole. Most melanomas have a black or black-blue area. Melanoma may also appear as a new mole. It may be black, abnormal, or "ugly looking."
Thinking of "ABCDE" can help you remember what to watch for:
- the shape of one half does not match the other
- the edges are ragged, blurred or irregular
- the color is uneven and may include shades of black, brown and tan
- there is a change in size, usually an increase
- the mole has changed over the past few weeks or months
NIH: National Cancer Institute
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