One in 5 Americans will have skin cancer at least once. If not treated, it can be life threatening. When detected and treated early, however, it usually can be cured.
Skin cancer is found in younger patients, however, due to the popularity of tanning beds. Research has shown that patients who use a tanning bed prior to age 35 have a 75 percent increased risk of developing melanoma. Skin cancer is more common in Caucasians, but all ethnicities and skin types can develop it.
People often think a tan is healthy; however, having a tan means your skin already has undergone cell damage. A person’s risk of melanoma doubles with just five sunburns. Early signs of sun/skin damage are freckles, moles and other skin lesions. While most are benign, it is important to monitor these “spots.”
Skin cancer can have different appearances. Often a benign “freckle” that grows or changes color or even what people think is a non-healing pimple can be skin cancer. If you’re concerned about changes to a mole or a skin lesion, show it to your doctor, who will check your skin and may refer you to a specialist to have the lesion examined further and possibly biopsied.
A biopsy can vary depending on body location, but results in minimal scarring while providing a diagnosis. Many times, a lesion is benign and can be monitored. A precancerous lesion may be removed with laser, cryotherapy (use of low temperatures) or surgical removal.
Skin cancer can occur on any area of the body, but is more common in sun-exposed areas. Areas of the head, specifically the nose, ears and scalp (in bald patients), are the most common areas for skin cancer. Three types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma (the most common), squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma, which is the most serious.
If melanoma is discovered and treated early, it almost always is curable. If not treated early, the cancer can advance and spread to other parts of the body. The other types of skin cancer rarely spread, but are much easier to treat when caught early. Those usually can be surgically removed in our procedure suite.
Once you’ve had skin cancer, it means you’ve had enough sun exposure to damage the skin. It’s likely only a matter of time before another one develops, so skin checks are important.
For patients with skin cancer, skin checkups should be at least once a year with your doctor. Everyone should perform self-checks monthly, as well.
Dr. Hilton McDonald and I are skin cancer specialists and can assess skin lesions to see if they are benign or malignant, as well as diagnose and treat other skin conditions. We have special training that enables us to recognize skin cancer, remove it and repair it in a cosmetically-pleasing manner.
Protect your skin from UV radiation, especially during the peak hours of sunlight from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Apply a daily sunscreen base to your face and ears with at least skin protection factor (SPF) of 15 that blocks UVA and UVB radiation. Use SPF 30 or greater if participating in outdoor activities, even if it’s cloudy.
Wear a wide-brimmed hat that protects the face and the neck. Wear protective clothing that covers as much of the skin as possible and is made of tightly woven fabric made of thick material or clothing with an ultraviolet protection factor.
Preventing skin cancer isn’t always possible if precautions weren’t taken. Being alert for new spots or skin growths and having your doctor check your skin regularly may help find skin cancer early, when it can be treated more easily.
Lea Humphrey, DO, is an ear, nose and throat/facial plastic surgeon for Mercy Clinic with Hilton McDonald, DO. Both doctors are board certified in facial plastic surgery and otolaryngology, a surgical subspecialty that deals with conditions of the ear, nose, throat (ENT) and related structures of the head and neck. They see pediatric and adult patients. Services include skin lesion removal with cosmetic repair, allergy testing and treatment, dizziness evaluation, thyroid treatment and a voice clinic, as well as general ENT services like tubes, tonsillectomy and sinus surgery. They are accepting new patients at Mercy Clinic Ear, Nose, Throat and Allergy, 100 Mercy Way, Suite 560, Joplin, and can be reached at 417-556-8566, or visit www.mercy.net/practice/mercy-clinic-ear-nose-and-throat-and-allergy-joplin.