Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States.
The good news? It is the easiest to cure if diagnosed and treated early.
“It can’t be emphasized enough the importance of examining your own skin for any changes,” explains Elizabeth Geddes, M.D., M.S., a specialist in the screening for and treatment of skin cancer who is affiliated with Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center’s state-of-the-art Dermatology & Laser Surgery Center.
Dr. Geddes is affiliated with Memorial Hermann –Texas Medical Center and offers this easy-to-follow guideline to help you detect signs of skin cancer.
Dr. Geddes offers another tip: if the diameter of a mole becomes larger than a pencil eraser, it should be checked. “The “E” step is the most important one,” adds Dr. Geddes. “If you have any spot that has changed in color or size, go immediately to a trained dermatologist to have it checked. If it is cancer, the longer you wait, it can become more serious and more difficult to treat.”
She also recommends that individuals do a monthly skin self-exam from head to toe. “If you have any first degree relative with a history of melanoma you should get a routine screening each year from a dermatologist. It is important to see a dermatologist if there are any new spots on your skin, any changes, such as itching or bleeding moles, or if you routinely enjoy activities that include fishing, golfing or using tanning beds.”
During an appointment with a dermatologist, the doctor will ask you to change into a hospital gown. Using a dermatoscope, the doctor will carefully examine your skin from head to toe, paying close attention to your scalp, eyes, mouth and torso, as well as between your toes and the soles of your feet.
“If I see anything suspicious, I will have a biopsy done,” she says “and I also show patients how to do a self exam and what to look for on their skin.”
What is skin cancer?
Skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells that is caused by a variety of factors. Because a skin cancer tumor can be clearly visible to the naked eye, it makes it detectable in the early stages and often more successfully treated.
Skin cancer can be caused from unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells, often caused by ultraviolet radiation from sunshine or tanning beds.
There are two types of lesions that can progress into cancer:
- Actinic Keratosis (AK) that appears as a scaly bump.
- Dysplastic Nevi which are abnormal moles that have irregular borders, are asymmetrical in shape, vary in color and are larger than a typical mole.
How is skin cancer treated?
Treatment of skin cancer is individualized, taking into consideration factors such as the patient’s age, location of the cancer, and type of skin cancer. It is possible that more than one type of therapy can be appropriate.
Treatments offered by the Dermatology and Laser Surgery Center include:
Curretage & Electrodessication
Wide local excision
Interferon intramuscular injections
Mohs Micrographic surgery
Paul M. Friedman, M.D., clinical assistant professor of the Department of Dermatology at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, and with Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center’s Dermatology & Laser Surgery Center, has completed extensive Fellowship training in Mohs Micrographic surgery. This is a procedure that is widely accepted as the most effective method of treating many types of skin cancer.
How can I prevent skin cancer?
“The best way to prevent skin cancer is to practice sun safety, and see your dermatologist regularly,” explains Dr. Friedman.
If you must be in the sun, Dr. Friedman recommends you apply a sunscreen with UVA (ultraviolet) and UVB protection and a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher and applied 30 minutes prior to sun exposure.
UVA rays penetrate deep into the dermis, the skin’s thickest layer. Unprotected exposure can lead to premature skin aging and suppression of your immune system. When your skin’s defenses are down, you are at risk for skin cancer. UVB rays will usually burn the superficial layers of the skin.
“Our bodies can heal because we have a good immune system and we often need to give it some help,” adds Dr. Geddes.
“Remember, it is never too late,” she emphasizes. “If you start taking precautions now, such as using sunscreen and wearing protective clothing, you can not only prevent further sun damage, you can also reverse existing damage.”
Learn more about skin cancer and treatment options.
Click here to see locations for free skin cancer screenings.