Follow Your Heart to Good Health: Heart Disease & Stroke
April 2022 Issue — Pink Prescriptions
Here Comes the Sun: Tips to safely enjoy the sunny days of spring
By Diane Bowen, M.D.
After so much time spent inside during the cold winter months, we are all ready to get out and enjoy the gorgeous spring weather. However, it’s important to take precautions before basking in the sun. Yes! You can get sunburned even on these beautiful, cool, sunny spring days. Skin cancer—the abnormal growth of skin cells—most often develops on skin that has been exposed to the sun. Are you at risk?
There are three major types of skin cancer:
• Basal Cell Carcinoma: This is skin cancer that begins in the basal cells, which are a type of cell within the skin that produces new skin cells as old ones die off. Basal cell carcinoma typically appears in sun-exposed areas, such as the head and neck and has a slightly transparent bump. It is usually a growth or sore that won’t heal.
• Squamous Cell Carcinoma: This is skin cancer that begins in the squamous cells, which make up the middle and outer layers of the skin. Squamous cell carcinoma is usually not life threatening, though it can be aggressive. Left untreated, it can grow to be large and spread to other parts of the body. This type of skin cancer typically appears in sun-exposed areas, such as the scalp, backs of your hands, ears or lips, but can be found anywhere on the body. It is usually a firm, red nodule, or a flat sore with a scaly crust.
• Melanoma: This is the most serious type of skin cancer, and it develops in the cells that produce melanin—the pigment that gives skin its color. The risk of melanoma has been steadily increasing in people under 40, especially women. Knowing the warning signs for early detection and treatment can allow for successful treatment. Melanomas can develop anywhere on the body but are most often seen on the back, legs, arms and face. Melanoma can develop in “hidden” places such as the soles of your feet, palms of your hands, in fingernail beds and the genital area. The first sign of melanoma includes a change in an existing mole, or the development of a new pigmented or unusual looking growth. (Log onto this article on paisleymagazine.com to check out the ABCDE’s of melanoma.)
How often should I get checked?
It is recommended that you get checked for skin cancers annually by a dermatologist. If you are at an increased risk, or if you have had skin cancer in the past, it may be recommended that you see a dermatologist more often, anywhere from every three to six months. It is best that you keep an eye on your body each day. Keep watch for any suspicious lesions on your skin, and if anything changes it is best to have it checked.
When in doubt, have it checked out!
Skin Cancer is the easiest preventable cancer,
and if quickly identified, it is easiest to treat.
Who is most at risk for skin cancer?
Skin Cancer affects people of all skin tones, including those with darker complexions. Much of the damage to DNA in skin cells results from ultraviolet (UV) radiation found in sunlight and in the lights used in tanning beds.
Factors that increase your risk of skin cancer include:
• Fair skin: Having less pigment (melanin) in your skin provides less protection from damaging UV radiation. If you have blond or red hair and light-colored eyes, and you freckle or sunburn easily, you’re much more likely to develop skin cancer than a person with darker skin
• History of sunburns: Having had one or more blistering sunburns as a child or teenager increases your risk of developing skin cancer as an adult. Sunburns in adulthood also are risk factors.
• Excessive sun exposure: Anyone who spends considerable time in the sun may develop skin cancer, especially if the skin isn’t protected by sunscreen or clothing. Tanning, including exposure to tanning lamps and beds, also puts you at risk. A tan is your skin’s injury response to excessive UV radiation.
• Moles: People who have many moles or abnormal moles are at increased risk of skin cancer. These abnormal moles, which look irregular and are generally larger than normal moles, are more likely than others to become cancerous.
• Precancerous skin lesions: Having skin lesions, known as actinic keratoses, can increase your risk of developing skin cancer.
• Family history of skin cancer or personal history of skin cancer: Increases your risk factor.
• Weakened immune system: Having an autoimmune deficiency, or having to take immunosuppressant drugs after an organ transplant, increase your risk.
• Exposure to radiation: People who have received radiation for skin conditions, such as eczema and acne, may have an increased risk
How do you prevent skin cancer?
Most skin cancers are preventable and early detection is the key.
Avoid the sun during peak times of the day: The sun’s rays are the strongest between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. Try to schedule outdoor activities outside of these peak times, even in the winter or on cloudy days.
Wear sunscreen year-round: Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum 30 SPF even on cloudy days. Apply sunscreen generously and reapply every two hours, or more often if swimming. Don’t forget to apply sunscreen to the tips of your ears and backs of your hands.
Wear protective clothing: Sunscreens don’t provide complete protection, so wearing a broad-brimmed hat, and photoprotective clothing can be very helpful in preventing sunburns.
Avoid tanning beds: Lights used in tanning beds emit UV rays and can increase your risk of skin cancer.
Skin Checks regularly: Examine your skin often for new skin growths or changes in existing moles, freckles, bumps and birthmarks.
It is recommended that you get checked for
skin cancers annually by a dermatologist.
I have a suspicious mole, what’s next?
You have been to the dermatologist and there is a lesion they say is “suspicious.” Usually, you will be scheduled for a skin biopsy. This is a procedure to remove cells or skin samples and send to a laboratory for examination. There are three main types of skin biopsies, Shave biopsy, punch biopsy and excisional biopsy. If it is determined to be skin cancer, there are two situations, either all the cancer was removed with the biopsy, or additional treatment to remove the remaining cancer cells is needed. In some instances, a technique called “Mohs Surgery” may be used to remove the skin cancer, while doing minimal damage to the surrounding healthy tissue. This technique allows the surgeon to verify that all the cancer cells have been removed at the time of surgery, decreasing the need for additional treatments or surgery. If the skin cancer is in a visible place, such as the face or ears, a referral to a plastic surgeon may be necessary.