Mind & Body
Overexposed: Preventing Skin Cancer
5/5/2017 1:40:26 PM



Whether you prefer a relaxing day on the beach or an afternoon on the golf course, enjoying the warmth of sunshine is one of the great things about summertime. Getting a sun-kissed glow is one of the side benefits . . . or is it? Unfortunately, those sunrays aren’t kind to the skin.

"Many people think a little color to the skin makes a person look healthier, but if they knew the damage the sun causes to the skin, they would avoid it,” says Lee Miller, MD, board certified dermatologist and Mohs surgeon with Dermatology Associates of Southwest Louisiana.

Exposure to UV rays over the years, whether from the sun or from tanning beds, causes significant cosmetic changes in the skin. In fact, skin changes we chalk up to normal signs of aging are actually due in large part to sun exposure. When we notice our skin isn’t bouncing back as it used to, or beginning to sag a bit, it’s due to loss of elastin and other fibers in the skin that are broken down by the sun’s UV rays. Of course, we also know that the sun causes fine lines and wrinkles long before they would naturally appear.

"For simple cosmetic reasons, it’s best to avoid prolonged sun exposure. It can accelerate the aging process by ten years or more,” says Dr. Miller.

Beneath the skin’s surface, though, there are far more important reasons to be careful about excessive sun exposure. It may be surprising to learn that skin cancer is the most prevalent form of all cancers in the United States, and the number of cases continues to rise. Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are the most common types and make up 95% of all skin cancers. They’re also known as non-melanoma skin cancers.

"When treated early, non-melanoma skin cancer is highly curable,” Dr. Miller says.

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type and accounts for approximately seventy percent of all skin cancers. Signs of basal cell carcinoma include a small, smooth or waxy bump on the face, ears, or neck; or a flat pink or brown lesion on the trunk of the body or arms and legs. Patients often mistake a basal cell carcinoma for a pimple that keeps coming back or just won’t heal.

Squamous cell carcinoma, the other type of non-melanoma skin cancer accounts for approximately 25% of skin cancers. It usually appears as a firm, red nodule or a rough, scaly flat lesion.

While they can occur anywhere, basal cell and squamous cell cancers are mainly found on areas of the skin that are heavily sun-exposed.

The more deadly type of skin cancer is known as melanoma. It is the cause of 75% of all skin cancer deaths. It can spread to other organs and may be difficult to control, depending on the stage at which it is found. If left untreated, it can be life threatening.

Melanoma usually appears as a brown or black spot or bump. It might resemble a normal mole, but usually has an irregular appearance. The "ABCDE” rules help in remembering the signs to look for when it comes to spotting melanoma:

  •  Asymmetry – the shape of one half doesn’t match the other
  •  Border – the edges are ragged or scalloped
  •  Color – uneven shades of brown, black, tan, red, white, or blue within one spot
  •  Diameter – greater than the diameter of a pencil eraser
  •  Evolving—changing over time

Anyone can get skin cancer, but people with fair or freckled skin, with light eyes and blonde or red hair are most susceptible. "If you are fair skinned or spend a lot of time exposed to UV rays, it’s a good idea to get a base line, full-body skin exam by a qualified dermatologist. The earlier skin cancer is found, the more effective the treatment,” explains Dr. Miller. For those with a history of skin cancer, a full skin exam is recommended at least annually.

Studies show that skin exams decrease skin cancer deaths by more than sixty percent. If a questionable spot is found, the physician will usually perform a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis.

If a questionable spot is found to be cancerous, Dr. Miller says there are several types of treatments available, including Mohs surgery for high-risk non-melanoma skin cancers. "It is the most precise surgical technique used to treat skin cancer. Thin layers of cancer-containing skin are removed and examined until only cancer-free tissue remains. The technique preserves as much healthy skin as possible and results in the highest cure rate.”

"Mohs surgery is an improvement to the traditional surgery where the physician would remove the cancerous area along with a standard margin of surrounding tissue. During Mohs surgery, the tissue is examined much more thoroughly and we verify that all cancer cells have been removed in real-time during the surgery. This increases the chance of cure while reducing the need for additional treatments or additional surgery,” Dr. Miller explains.

Other common treatments include: traditional surgeries, scraping, freezing with liquid nitrogen (cryotherapy), laser therapy, radiation therapy, topical medications, and systemic chemotherapy.

The good news is that most skin cancers are preventable. Even though we’ve heard prevention tips in the past, it’s important to practice sun safety:

  •  Avoid the sun during midday. The sun’s rays are most intense from 10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. during summer.
  •  Wear sunscreen. Apply liberally and make sure to reapply every two hours when swimming or sweating.
  •  Avoid tanning beds.
  •  Use sun protective clothing: wide-brim hats, sunglasses, long sleeves, rash guards.

While almost eighty percent of a person’s lifetime of sun exposure occurs during childhood and the young adult years, it’s never too late to start protecting yourself as sun damage is cumulative. Protecting young skin from the sun and educating adolescents and young adults about the dangers of too much sun exposure is critical to their health later in life.

Dr. Miller says if there are any areas of concern on the body, it’s best to get them checked out for peace of mind. An early diagnosis and treatment can mean a world of difference.

For more information, call Dermatology Associates of Southwest Louisiana at 337-433-7272.

Posted by: Christine Fisher | Submit comment | Tell a friend

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