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Skin Cancer a dermatologist closely examining a possible skin cancer spot on her patient's back– 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 discusses the importance of these efforts, emphasizing the need for regular skin cancer screenings.

Importance of Preventative Skin Cancer Screenings

Early detection of skin cancer saves lives. As with other types of cancer, skin cancer is most responsive to treatment and easiest to cure when it is detected early. When skin cancer is in its early stages, a skin doctor can remove the cancerous tissue and a bit of normal-looking skin around it. Given time to grow and spread, however, skin cancer treatment becomes more difficult.

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.”

Skin Cancer Statistics

Doctors diagnose more than 5 million cases of skin cancer in the United States each year, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. In fact, the American Academy of Dermatology Association says that skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the nation, with one in five Americans developing the condition at some point in their lifetime.

Before the age of 50, skin cancer rates are higher in women than in men. After the age of 50, though, men have higher rates of the disease. “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,” states Dr. Rydzik.

Melanoma vs Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer

“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.” Melanoma is a type of cancer that develops in the skin’s melanocytes, which are the cells responsible for giving skin its color. Non-melanoma skin cancer affects skin cells that are not melanocytes – specifically, non-melanoma skin cancer affects the basal, squamous or Merkel cells of the skin.

When looking for signs of melanoma in an existing mole, the National Cancer Institute suggests patients use the “ABCDE” method:

Asymmetry: the shape of one half doesn’t match the other half

Border: an irregular border

Color: uneven shades

Diameter: Change in size

Evolving: Changes in the mole

There are several types of non-melanoma skin cancers, and each looks slightly different:

Basal cell carcinoma: this often appears as small, raised, shiny, or pearly bumps
Squamous cell carcinoma: appears as rough or scaly reddish patch that often starts in areas exposed to the sun
Merkel cell carcinoma: appears as firm, shiny skin lumps that may be red, pink, or blue
Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma: appears as scaly patches or bumps

How to Prevent Skin Cancer

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.”

Commenting on the importance of skin cancer awareness month-long, 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.” Contact us today to learn more about our skin cancer evaluations and skin exams.