Hi, I'm Dr. Madeline Fisher with CHI Saint Joseph Medical Group – Primary Care. Thank you for joining us today for Let's Break to Educate. The topic for today is skin cancer awareness.
In clinic, I receive many questions about moles and skin cancer, so I wanted to discuss some important information about skin cancer. This is especially pertinent as we move into the summer season. Skin cancer is the most common kind of cancer in the United States, and it's also one of the most preventable. About one in five people in the United States will develop skin cancer by the age of 70.
Skin Cancer Types and Common Risk Factors
There are multiple types of skin cancer, including melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma. One question that I'm often asked is, what are risk factors for developing skin cancer? There are several risk factors.
First, unprotected exposure to UVA or UVB rays from the sun or other sources is a risk factor for developing skin cancer. Ultraviolet A radiation, or UVA radiation, is radiation that we often associate with skin aging. UVB radiation is associated with skin burning. It's important to know that UVA rays can penetrate clouds and windows, so you're not protected from sun damage if you are outside without sun protection just because it's cloudy.
The second risk factor is sunburns. Repeated sunburn increases a person's risk of skin cancer. In fact, having a history of five or more sunburns doubles a person's risk of melanoma.
Indoor tanning is also a risk for developing skin cancer. It's been proven that ultraviolet light is a cancer-causing agent, and indoor tanning significantly increases skin cancer risk because the tanning machines emit UV radiation that's 10 to 15 times higher than what is admitted from the sun at its peak activity. In fact, more people develop skin cancer because of indoor tanning than people who develop lung cancer from smoking.
Genetics, skin type and red hair can also impact skin cancer risk. However, it's important to remember that any person of any skin tone can get skin cancer, and people who always tan and rarely burn with sun exposure can also get skin cancer.
Reducing Your Risk
I'm also asked, "How do I reduce my risk of developing skin cancer?" So, there are several important ways that someone can reduce their risk. First, avoid sunburns whenever possible. Second, avoid tanning and indoor tanning beds. I recommend trying to stay in the shade as much as possible, especially during peak hours between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. When you are outside, you should cover up with clothing, a broad-brimmed hat and UV blocking sunglasses.
I recommend using a broad spectrum sunscreen with sun protection factor of SPF 30 or higher. Sunscreens labeled broad spectrum block both UVA and UVB radiation. You should reapply sunscreen every two hours while outside, or after swimming or sweating. So, for example, on that typical day at the beach, one should apply sunscreen a minimum of two times.
Sun Protection for All Ages
When considering sun protection for children, infants and children who are six months and older should wear sunscreen when outdoors. For infants, make sure that the product is labeled that is intended for use with babies. Everyone should use a broad spectrum sunscreen.
Monitor Your Skin
In addition to these tips to reduce UV radiation exposure, it's important to monitor for any concerning skin lesions. I recommend that everyone take a monthly self skin exam looking for new or changing skin lesions. I like to use the ABCDE acronym when describing findings concerning melanoma. Any mole or skin lesion that meets one of these criteria should be examined by a doctor.
A stands for asymmetry. If you draw a line down the middle of a mole, the two sides should be equal. Potentially cancerous moles often are asymmetrical, and one side will not match the other.
B stands for borders. Precancerous or cancerous moles often have irregular borders; melanoma often has irregular borders. Common moles usually have smooth borders.
C is for color. Non-cancerous moles will often be the same shade of brown. But any mole that has multiple shades of tan, brown or black, or with patches of white, red or blue may be concerning.
D stands for diameter. Most benign moles are smaller than the size of a pencil eraser. So any larger moles should be examined.
E stands for evolving. Any mole that is changing from its usual is concerning and should be examined by a doctor.
If any moles fit these characteristics, or if they are changing, painful, crusted or bleeding, they should be examined. Skin sores that do not heal within three weeks should also be examined.
It's important to see your primary care doctor or dermatologist if you notice any of these concerning lesions. Seeing a dermatologist annually for a full body skin check can also help increase early detection of skin cancer. It's important to know that most cases of skin cancer are curable if they're diagnosed and treated early enough. Following the tips that we discussed to reduce one's risk of skin cancer and to identify worrisome skin changes can help spot skin cancer early.
Thank you again for joining us today for Let's Break to Educate. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to call us at the office at 859.629.7245, or visit our website at www.CHISaintJosephHealth.org. Thank you.