May is skin cancer detection and prevention month. Did you know that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer during the course of their lives (Geggel, L., 2014)? Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer, whereas malignant melanoma is the most dangerous. Chronic sun exposure factors heavily in the growth of skin cancer according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). Skin cancer is a dangerous but preventable disease. Early detection and treatment is critical to a good outcome.
Here are some common risk factors:
- Too much time in the sun or too many sunburns (World Health Organization)
- Fair skinned people (Mayo Clinic)
- Living in sunny or high altitude climates (WHO)
- Lots of moles or abnormal moles (WHO)
- Precancerous lesions such as Actinic Keratosis (WHO)
- Weakened immune systems due to HIV or AIDS, or those taking medications following an organ transplant (WHO)
The American Cancer Society promotes the ABCD rule to help people remember the important signs of melanoma and other skin cancers. These letters stand for Asymmetry, Border irregularity, Color, andDiameter. Any mole or growth that has an uneven or notched border, multiple colors or is larger than the diameter of a pencil eraser should cause a trip to a qualified physician. You should check your skin monthly making note of any unusual changes.
Doctors use several methods to remove unwanted and suspicious moles. For example, laser surgery provides a high tech solution for the removal of basal cell carcinomas. The laser employs the energy of light to vaporize and seal the lesion with the extra benefit of not causing damage to surrounding tissue. Laser treatment does not require stitches and has excellent cosmetic results. Surgical excision of a growth with a scalpel is the standard method for removing melanomas. A surgeon cuts out the entire growth and additional normal skin around it to ensure complete removal of all cancer cells. Dermatologists frequently freeze and destroy small basal cell carcinomas with liquid nitrogen. This method avoids the cutting and stitching of skin but may result in a scar. Mohs surgery involves excising thin layers of a skin cancer while carefully checking each layer under a microscope until the site is tumor free. Skin care specialists tout Mohs Surgery because it saves healthy skin and has a high cure rate. The good news is that these methods of treatment effectively cure skin cancer, but knowing how to prevent skin cancer is the best news of all.
Prevention tips from the AAD:
- Use a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher
- Limit your time in the sun from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Wear long-sleeved shirts, hats, long pants and sunglasses while exposed to the sun
- Do not use tanning beds
- Reapply sunscreen when exercising and swimming
Doctor Jared Mallalieu and Dr. Ross VanAntwerp offer laser treatment and cosmetic surgery to safely remove moles. They biopsy any mole changing in size, shape, color, or that fails to heal. Remember that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Protect your skin, and have a doctor examine you if you notice anything unusual.
Our doctors offer free skin exams. Call the Laser Center of Maryland at 410-544-4600.