May is Skin Cancer Awareness month and the American Academy of Dermatology marks the occasion with its annual SPOT Skin Cancer™ campaign. At the Center for Dermatology and Laser Surgery, we also think knowing your ABCs is a great way to keep an eye out for skin cancer, actually A, B, C, D, and E. Those five letters are an easy way to remember five keys for identifying growths that could be skin cancer, especially melanoma.
Living in not-always-so-sunny Portland, we can be lulled into a false sense of security about skin cancer. But whether you ski at Mt. Hood or Mt. Bachelor, when you hike the Cascades or hang out on the beach at Lincoln City, our outdoor Oregon lifestyles still result in plenty of sun exposure. And with that comes an elevated risk for developing skin cancer.
The key to beating skin cancer is to catch it early. Toward that end, the whole team at Center for Dermatology and Laser Surgery want our patients to be knowledgeable about the warning signs, so here is some additional information on skin cancer.
Who gets skin cancer?
Some people are very diligent about wearing sunscreen and otherwise protecting their skin, yet still seem to constantly find new actinic keratoses (pre-cancerous lesions) and even basal and squamous cell carcinomas. Meanwhile their friends with darker skin tones don’t ever get anything. Why is this? It all comes down to melanin. Melanin is the pigment in the skin that helps protect it from the sun. Melanin is what is responsible for turning the skin a darker tone (tanning) after receiving sun exposure. This is a protection mechanism.
The problem is, people with fair skin have less melanin so they are less protected. The ultraviolet rays from the sun can alter the genetic material in skin cells, causing them to mutate into cancerous cells. It is estimated that 40 to 50% of people with fair skin (who live to be at least 65 years of age) will develop at least one skin cancer in their lives.
Squamous cell carcinomas and basal cell carcinomas are more common than melanoma and they come from different types of sun exposure. Squamous and basal cell carcinomas are typically the result of the amount of overall sun exposure. Fair-skinned people who spend a lot of time outdoors will likely develop one of these two skin cancers. Melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer, isn’t thought to come as much from prolonged sun exposure, but from the intensity. It is believed that melanoma is triggered by the scorching sunburns where the person’s skin blisters and peels afterwards. Research has shown that just one blistering sunburn during childhood doubles a person’s risk for developing melanoma later in life.
Know your ABCDEs
These five letters can come in handy when looking for skin cancers on your skin.
- Asymmetry— If one half of the mole doesn’t match the other half, that’s a concern. Normal moles are symmetrical.
- Border— If the border or edges of your mole are ragged, blurred, or irregular, that is a reason for concern. Melanoma lesions often have irregular borders.
- Color— Normal moles are a single shade throughout. If your mole has changed color or if it has different shades of tan, brown, black, blue, white, or red, then it should be checked.
- Diameter— If a mole is larger than the eraser of a pencil it needs to be checked.
- Evolving— If a mole evolves by shrinking, growing larger, changing color, itching or bleeding, or other changes it should be checked. Melanoma lesions often grow in size or gain height rapidly.
Don’t think our grey rainy winters keep you safe from skin cancer. Unless you never go outdoors — and what’s the point of living in Oregon if you do that — you need to keep an eye out for skin cancer. Plus, yearly skin checks with the team at Center for Dermatology and Laser Surgery are a good idea, especially if you have fair skin or get a lot of sun exposure. Call us at (503) 297-3440 to make an appointment.
May is Skin Cancer Awareness month, an annual SPOT Skin Cancer™ campaign initiated by the American Academy of Dermatology.
Dr. Bernard Gasch, a board-certified dermatologist at the Center for Dermatology and Laser Surgery Portland, Oregon discusses the importance of prevention and early detection.
“An estimated one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. On average, one American dies from melanoma every hour. However, when detected and treated in its early stages, the five-year-survival rate for melanoma can be as high as 98%.”
Offering tips as to how patients can reduce their risk for developing skin cancer, Dr. Gasch stated this: “While there are a number of risk factors involved in skin cancer, exposure to ultraviolet radiation is the biggest culprit. One can decrease this risk by avoiding the sun, especially between the hours of 10AM to 4PM. If this cannot be helped, be sure you apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Also, reapply sunscreen frequently and liberally. One rule of thumb is to reapply every two hours or if you perspire, whichever comes first. Photoprotective clothing as well as a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses offer an extra layer of protection. Another option instead of purchasing new photoprotective clothing is to use a specific laundry detergent which adds SPF to your current clothing. This laundry detergent (which is available at Center for Dermatology and Laser Surgery) increases the SPF in your clothing to 30 (normal weave clothing has an SPF of 5 or less).
Commenting on the importance of this month-long effort, Dr. Gasch finishes with this: “While skin cancer is certainly a serious condition, it is almost always treatable when caught early. We encourage patients to take a proactive role in their skin health not only during the month of May but all year long. If you notice any changing, bleeding, itching or suspicious spots on you or your partner’s skin, please schedule a comprehensive skin exam by a qualified Dermatology provider promptly.“
CALL US AT 503-297-3440 TO SCHEDULE YOUR APPOINTMENT
May 1st marks the beginning of Skin Cancer Awareness Month, an annual campaign aimed at bringing skin cancer prevention and detection to center stage. Dr. Beata Rydzik of Portland’s Center for Dermatology and Laser Surgery was on hand to discuss the importance of these efforts, emphasizing the need for regular skin cancer screenings.
“Each year, over 3.5 million skin cancer cases are diagnosed in over 2 million people – that represents more cases than
breast, prostate, colon, and lung cancer combined,” reports Dr. Rydzik. “With such a high prevalence, it is crucial for patients to understand the steps they can take to prevent, detect, and treat this all-too-common disease.”
A topic often misunderstood, Dr. Rydzik offered some background on the different types of skin cancers men and women are susceptible to. “Skin cancers can be generally broken down into two categories: melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers,” explains Dr. Rydzik. “Melanoma accounts for less than 5% of skin cancer cases, but it represents the deadliest form of the disease. While non-melanoma skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma tend to be less fatal, they still present a serious medical concern.”
Offering tips as to how patients can reduce their risk for developing skin cancer, Dr. Rydzik stated this: “While there are a number of risk factors involved in skin cancer, exposure to ultraviolet radiation is the biggest culprit. Patients can minimize their exposure by avoiding the sun especially between the hours of 10AM to 4PM. If this cannot be helped be sure you wear sunscreen with an appropriate SPF. I recommend a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 40 and above. Reapplication after perspiration or swimming and every 2 hrs is also very important as no sunscreen that we put on in the morning lasts all day long. Most definitely steer away from tanning beds which have the highest concentration of UVB radiation, more so than natural sunlight. You can also cover up with loose-fitting clothing and wear hats with a large brim. Patients need to understand that there is no benefit to “pre-tanning” before going on a tropical vacation. If you follow the steps of reapplication you will not sunburn. “Pre-tanning” amplifies the “UV-load” on your skin which then increases your risk of skin cancer and leads to premature aging.”
Emphasizing the importance of skin cancer detection, Dr. Rydzik had this to say: “In the end, one of the most important weapons against skin cancer is regular screenings from a dermatologist. This is especially important for those who have a family history of skin cancer, those with a fair complexion, multiple moles and those who have noticed suspicious changes in their skin.”
Commenting on the importance of this month-long effort, Dr. Rydzik finished with this: “While skin cancer is certainly a serious condition, it is almost always treatable when caught early. We encourage patients to take a proactive role in their skin health not only during the month of May but all year long and contact us directly to schedule regular skin exams.”
CALL US AT 503-297-3440 TO SCHEDULE A SKIN CANCER EVALUATION APPOINTMENT
As the cold winter weather leaves us, many people enjoy spending more time outside in the sun. Getting outdoors is a great way to stay healthy, but skin needs protection from UV rays. Each time skin is exposed to the sun without protection, even without tanning or burning, the risk of skin cancer and premature aging increases. Fortunately, skin can be protected and a few simple steps can help prevent cancer.
Tips To Prevent Skin Cancer
- Limit direct sun exposure: Avoid direct, mid-day sun whenever possible. Between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., the sun’s rays are the most powerful. If outdoors, spend time in the shade. If that’s not possible, invest in sun protecting clothing. Many stylish options are available today for men, women, and children.
- Wear sunglasses: Protect the eyes by wearing sunglasses any time the sun is out. Invest in a pair that has a label specifying its UV protection. Eyes are very susceptible to sun damage, so give them the protection they need.
- Daily sunscreen: Use sunscreen every day, even if only outside for a few minutes. Every little bit of daily sun exposure adds up to cumulative damage and cancer risk. Use an SPF of at least 15 on all exposed skin every day, and check the bottle to ensure it provides UVA and UVB (broad spectrum) protection. When outside for a longer length of time, use a broad spectrum SPF of at least 30 and reapply every two hours. Remember to check expiration dates on all sunscreen and discard any bottles that have expired, as they lose their potency with time.
- Protect baby skin: Keep babies out of the sun. Newborn babies should always be protected with a full-coverage sun shade over their infant carrier or stroller. Once babies are over six months old, apply a sunscreen formulated for babies’ sensitive skin. Sun protective hats are important for babies of all ages, as they protect their delicate scalps and eyes from UV exposure.
- Get skin checked regularly: Examine skin every month, and see the dermatologist once a year, or as often as he or she has recommended. Regular skin checks are crucial to detecting skin cancer and treating it early, when a cure has the best chance.
Are You At Risk For Skin Cancer? Call the Center for Dermatology and Laser Surgery
For more information about our comprehensive dermatological services, including both medical and cosmetic dermatology, please contact the Center for Dermatology and Laser Surgery at 503.297.3440.