Article provided by Skin Cancer & Dermatology Institute
May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month – a time to bring attention to America’s most common cancer. With approximately 9,500 people in the U.S. diagnosed with the disease every day, the month of May is meant to bring awareness and help Americans understand its prevalence, causes, treatment, and how to identify and help prevent it. This month, Skin Cancer & Dermatology Institute’s Brandie Oros answers questions about skin cancer.
Q: WHY IS SKIN CANCER AWARENESS SO IMPORTANT?
A: The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) tells us that melanoma will affect 1 in 28 men and 1 in 41 women in their lifetime. Skin cancer is a considerable problem in the United States and can affect anyone, irrespective of skin color. UV radiation from the sun and tanning beds causes 90% of nonmelanoma skin cancer and 85% of melanoma skin cancer, meaning it is primarily a preventable disease. Raising awareness about this cancer is critical to helping reduce how many people are affected by it. The entire month of May is dedicated to this goal.
The first Monday of May is Melanoma Monday, a day designated to raising awareness about malignant melanoma, the deadliest skin cancer. The AAD promotes early detection via skin self-exams and routine dermatological appointments. I want everyone to be vigilant about skin cancer all year-long, yet I appreciate this month when awareness is heightened about skin cancer. And no surprise here, this month I am often reminding everyone to schedule their annual full skin exams. The Friday before Memorial Day is, Don’t Fry Day. On this day, the focus is on skin protection, sun-safety awareness, and it’s timely because it leads into the unofficial start of the summer season, when so many people are out in the sun.
Q: HOW IS SKIN CANCER DIAGNOSED?
A: First, it is essential to know that early detection is pivotal in skin cancer survival. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, most skin cancers diagnosed early have a 99% or higher 5-year survival rate. It is imperative to monitor your skin, including all lesions and moles. Scan for changes in size, color, itching, bleeding, or lesions with irregular characteristics. According to the American Cancer Society, 40% of melanomas are discovered by patients themselves; therefore, self-assessment is crucial. While regularly conducting self-exams should be a habit, dermatologists also recommend having your skin evaluated by a licensed medical provider at a dermatology clinic. Providers are uniquely trained to identify anything that may be a concern. A specialized device called a dermatoscope helps assess lesions for size, shape, color, and texture. If a lesion is abnormal or suspicious, your provider will likely perform a skin biopsy to test for cancer.
Q: HOW IS SKIN CANCER TREATED?
A: Skin cancer treatments are usually dependent on skin cancer type and the severity and location of the lesion. Treatments range from cryotherapy (liquid nitrogen), curettage and electrodesiccation (scrape and burn), topical chemotherapy, photodynamic therapy, an excision (local surgery), Mohs micrographic surgery, chemotherapy, radiation treatment, targeted therapy, or immunotherapy.
Q: HOW DOES THE SUN CAUSE SKIN CANCER?
A: The ultraviolet radiation from the sun causes DNA changes in skin cells. If enough DNA damage occurs, it causes the cells to grow out of control which can lead to cancer. The most common UV rays, known as UVA and UVB, both cause skin damage and skin cancer. UVB is responsible for most sunburns while UVA penetrates deeper into the skin and is more responsible for signs of aging. UVC rays have the most energy, but they react with the ozone layer and usually don’t reach the ground. You can’t feel UV rays, the heat sensation you get from the sun is caused by infrared rays. That is why you can still get sunburned on cold or cloudy days.
Q: WHAT IS A SUNBURN? AND IS THERE SUCH A THING AS A SAFE TAN?
A: A sunburn is the body’s response to the damage caused by UV rays. It is an obvious sign that damage has occurred. Some people think that by getting a base tan, they will prevent a future sunburn. In reality they are just causing skin damage. There truly is no such thing as a safe or healthy tan. A tan is evidence that your skin’s DNA has been damaged, and DNA damage can lead to cancer. All forms of tanning should be completely avoided. I like to tell my patients to get a healthy glow from a self-tanner rather than from the sun.
Q: WHAT ARE SOME LITTLE-KNOWN FACTS ABOUT SKIN CANCER?
A: I am often surprised by how many people do not realize how prevalent skin cancer is. I truly appreciate this month as it helps empower people with the knowledge they need about skin cancer.
Did you know that one in five Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70? That is significant. And compared to 20 years ago, there is an increase in younger patients being diagnosed with skin cancer. It used to be mostly a disease for those over the age of 50. Now we see it in people in their 40s, 30s, and even 20s.
Most people do not realize that daily exposure to the sun is as damaging or sometimes even more damaging than big sun days. Big sun days being those when they are on vacation, or outside enjoying a holiday. On these days, most people apply sunscreen but are lax on regular days. So I really encourage everyone to incorporate sunscreen into their daily routines. This is particularly true in Elko, where we live with high altitude and almost 300 days of sun per year, the risk for skin cancer is very high.
To learn more about skin cancer, how to help prevent it, and its treatments, schedule your annual skin exam with Brandie at the Elko location. Brandie is passionate about delivering the highest quality care to her patients and is not only skilled in Medical Dermatology but also Cosmetic Dermatology.