Dr. Amara Sayed
May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, and at Vitalogy Skincare, we are passionate about preventing, diagnosing, and treating skin cancer. Why is awareness of skin cancer so important? According to the American Academy of Dermatology, skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. That alone should bring this topic to the forefront of the conversation. Let’s look at some other numbers:
- Current estimates are that 1 in 5 people will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.
- More people are diagnosed with skin cancer than all other cancers combined.
- More than two people die of skin cancer in the U.S. every hour.
- More than 5.4 million cases of nonmelanoma skin cancer were diagnosed in 3.3 million people in 2012 (the most recent statistic available.)
- Five or more sunburns double the risk for melanoma.
It is important to shine the light on this health issue, especially as it is also one of the most preventable cancers and highly treatable when caught early. Since we can look at our skin daily, we can be proactive in detecting these cancers early. When we all participate in bringing awareness to the topic and being conscientious about protecting ourselves, we can make a difference in changing these numbers.
What is skin cancer?
Essentially, it is an abnormal growth of skin cells. Skin cells have a life cycle, and when cells stray from that cycle and grow abnormally, we call it cancer. The two leading causes of skin cancer are the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays and the UV used in indoor tanning beds. They essentially damage the DNA of your cells, causing this abnormal growth.
While there are various types of skin cancer, the three main types are basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and melanoma. They are classified this way based on the type of cell on the skin that becomes damaged.
Basal Cell Carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer, and according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, in the U.S. alone, there are 3.6 million cases diagnosed every year. BCC is likely to arise in sun-exposed body areas (face, neck, legs, arms, chest, or back). This type of cancer grows typically slowly, so it is more likely to be found and treated earlier with a high success rate. If left untreated, it can destroy skin, tissue, and bone, and in some aggressive cases, it can spread to other parts of the body.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma is the second most common form of skin cancer caused by the abnormal growth of squamous cells. This type of cell is a flat cell that grows on the top layer of the skin (the epidermis). Lesions usually appear in sun-exposed areas but can show up anywhere, including the genitals. SCC can be successfully treated when caught early.
Melanoma – This type of cancer has the lowest incidence of the other two skin cancers, but it is the most dangerous. It originates in the melanocytes, which are the cells that produce melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color. Melanoma spreads more rapidly and can move deeper into the skin and other parts of the body if not caught early. An estimated 7,650 people will die from melanoma in 2022. If treated early, it does have a 5-year survival rate of 99%.
Importance of Early Diagnosis and Self-Examinations
As we have mentioned before, early diagnosis is essential. Treating skin cancer at an early stage means a high cure rate, but it also may mean less invasive procedures, lower risk of metastasis (spreading to other parts of the body) with some types, and smaller scars from the removal of a tumor.
This brings us to the importance of self-examinations. You are the most important resource in early diagnosis. I encourage daily brief self-scans, especially at bath time when you are undressed and able to look at your entire body from head to toe. You are looking for anything new, changing, or that you think is unusual. The Skin Cancer Foundation suggests you look for things such as:
- A mole, birthmark, or brown spot that increases in size, thickness, changes color or texture or is bigger than a pencil eraser.
- A spot or sore that continues to itch, hurt, scab, or bleed.
- An open sore that does not heal within three weeks.
You see yourself every day, and if there are any noticeable changes, you will see them before anybody else through daily self-scans. If you see something that concerns you, you want to consult with your Dermatologist.
I also recommend you do a yearly examination with a Board-Certified Dermatologist. They are specially trained in disorders of the skin, hair, and nails and are more able to identify problem areas. If you have certain risk factors, your Provider will determine if you need more frequent exams.
Myths and Misconceptions about Skin Cancer
“It’s overcast, so I don’t need sunscreen.” – Overcast days are often big reasons for getting sunburns. The UV rays are still present and can cause damage to your skin.
“I tan, so I don’t need sunscreen.” – Not true. Your skin tanning is the skin’s response to UV rays and indicates damage to your cells. Anyone can develop skin cancer, regardless of skin color.
“I don’t go outside much.” – Remember, a lot of sun damage is incidental – things like walking your dog, running errands, driving in your car, standing by a window, etc. At the end of the day, it turns out to be more sun exposure than you might think.
Top 4 Tips for Reducing Your Risk of Skin Cancer
Tip 1:Use sunscreen daily with a sun protection factor (SPF) of a minimum of 30. Reapply every two hours, or more frequently if sweating heavily or in the water.
Tip 2: Avoid peak hours when the UV index is at its highest. This usually means the hours between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.
Tip 3: Use UV protective clothing and seek shade whenever possible.
Tip 4: Have a skin exam with a Board-Certified Dermatologist or Advanced Practitioner every year.
The American Academy of Dermatology’s website and the Skin Cancer Foundation are great resources for information about skin cancer and how to prevent it.
If you have any questions, have a spot you are worried about, or would like to schedule a yearly skin exam, we are here to help. You can book an appointment with any of our highly trained, experienced Board-Certified Dermatologists. Vitalogy Skincare has multiple locations to serve you better.
About Our Provider
Dr. Amara Sayed, D.O., Dr. Sayed focuses on education, prevention, and treatment of dermatological conditions and skin cancer and is a strong advocate for her patients. You can find her at our Bastrop and San Marcos locations.