woman in straw hat to protect her skin from the sun

Beating America’s Most Common Cancer – a Q&A with Board-Certified Fellowship-Trained Mohs Surgeon Dr. Jennifer Hanson

Skin cancer is one of the most common types of cancer, affecting millions of people worldwide. The good news is that skin cancer is usually curable if detected early enough. This article discusses the different types of skin cancer, early signs of skin cancer, areas of the body to check for, risk factors, the association between tanning beds and skin cancer, the importance of early detection, and the best ways to help prevent skin cancer.

Q: What are the different types of skin cancer, and how are they different?

A: There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and melanoma. BCC and SCC are the most common types of skin cancer, and they are usually not life-threatening. Melanoma, on the other hand, is less common but much more dangerous.

Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC): This type of skin cancer is the most common type. It usually appears on areas of the body exposed to the sun, such as the face, neck, and arms. BCC often looks like a pink, waxy bump but can also appear as a brown, black, or flesh-colored lesion.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC): SCC is the second most common type of skin cancer. It also appears on areas of the body exposed to the sun, such as the face, neck, and arms. SCC often looks like a scaly patch or a red raised bump.

Melanoma: Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer. This type of skin cancer develops in melanocytes, which are the cells that produce melanin – the pigment that gives skin its color. It can develop even in areas not exposed to the sun, and it can move to other parts of the body. Melanoma often looks like a mole but can also appear as a new dark spot on the skin.

Q: The Skin Cancer Foundation mentions the ABCDEs to recognize early signs of melanoma. Could you explain what these are?

A: The Skin Cancer Foundation uses the ABCDEs to help people recognize early signs of melanoma. They stand for the following:

A – Asymmetry: One half of the mole or lesion does not match the other.

B – Border: The edges of the mole or lesion are irregular, ragged, blurred, or notched.

C – Color: The color of the mole or lesion is not uniform. It may be black, brown, tan, or even pink, red, white, or blue.

D – Diameter: The mole or lesion is larger than 6 millimeters (about the size of a pencil eraser).

E – Evolving: The mole or lesion changes in size, shape, color, or texture.

Q: What areas of the body do most people forget to check for signs of skin cancer?

A: You should perform a skin self-exam once a month. When checking for signs of skin cancer, most people remember to check their face, neck, arms, and legs. However, people often forget to check some areas of the body. These include:

  • Scalp
  • Ears
  • Back of the neck
  • Between the toes
  • Soles of the feet
  • Genitals

The American Academy of Dermatology has a comprehensive guide to doing a self-exam. You can find it here.

Q: What skin cancer risk factors should we be aware of?

A: There are several risk factors for skin cancer. The most critical risk factor is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or tanning beds. Other risk factors include:

  • Fair skin
  • History of sunburns
  • Family history of skin cancer
  • Personal history of skin cancer
  • Weakened immune system
  • Exposure to certain chemicals

Q: Tanning beds are still very popular all year long. How are tanning beds associated with incidents of skin cancer?

A: Tanning beds emit UV radiation, which can damage the skin and increase the risk of skin cancer. People who use tanning beds before the age of 35 have a 75% higher risk of developing melanoma. Tanning beds are especially dangerous because they expose the skin to intense UV radiation in a short amount of time.

Q: Why is the early detection of skin cancer so important?

A: Early skin cancer detection is crucial because it can significantly improve the chances of successful treatment and reduces the risk of cancer spreading to other parts of the body. Skin cancer is one of the most common types of cancer, and it can develop in any area of the skin.

If skin cancer is detected early, it can often be treated with simple procedures such as surgical excision or topical treatments. However, if it is not caught early, it can spread to other parts of the body and become much more challenging to treat.

Regular skin checks and self-examinations are essential for early detection. You should look for any changes in the size, shape, or color of moles or other spots on your skin. If you notice any suspicious changes, you should see a doctor or dermatologist for further evaluation and treatment as soon as possible.

Overall, early skin cancer detection can significantly improve the chances of successful treatment, reduce the need for more invasive treatments, and increase the chances of survival.

Q: Lastly, reminding ourselves of the best ways to avoid skin cancer is always helpful. What are your top skin cancer prevention tips?

Limit sun exposure: Avoiding excessive exposure to the sun is key to preventing skin cancer. Avoid being outside during peak hours when the sun is strongest, usually from 10 am to 4 pm.

Wear protective clothing: Cover your skin with long-sleeved shirts, pants, hats, and sunglasses when you’re out in the sun.

Apply sunscreen: Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 and apply it generously and frequently, especially after swimming or sweating.

Don’t use tanning beds: Tanning beds are just as harmful as the sun, if not more, and can increase your risk of skin cancer.

Check your skin regularly: Examine your skin regularly for any new or unusual spots, changes in color or texture, or any other changes that might indicate skin cancer.

Protect children: Keep children under six months old out of the sun and protect them with hats, clothing, and sunscreen when they’re in the sun.

Stay in the shade: Seek shade under a tree, umbrella, or other shelters when you’re outside.

Be aware of your family history: If skin cancer runs in your family, you may be at higher risk, so discuss this with your doctor and take appropriate precautions.

The American Academy of Dermatology has a comprehensive guide to doing a self-exam. You can find it here.

About the Author: Dr. Jennifer Hanson

Dr. Jennifer Hanson is a board-certified dermatologist with extensive training in Mohs micrographic surgery and dermatologic oncology. Originally from New Jersey, she completed her medical education at the prestigious Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. She earned her medical degree, completed a dermatology residency, and a fellowship in Mohs micrographic surgery and dermatologic oncology. Dr. Hanson is dedicated to providing exceptional care to her patients in the Austin area and has received recognition for her clinical excellence.

Aside from her work, Dr. Hanson enjoys traveling, trying new cuisines, exercising, watching movies, and pursuing her passion for interior design. She is a proud mother to a daughter and is happily settled in the Austin community with her husband and two dogs. Dr. Hanson is a member of several professional organizations, including the American Academy of Dermatology, the American College of Mohs Surgery, and the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery.

Since 2007, Vitalogy Skincare has been Central Texas’ choice for dermatological care with best-in-class Board-Certified Dermatologists, Fellowship-Trained Mohs Surgeons, and Licensed Aestheticians.

Visit to learn more about our medical, cosmetic, and surgical services. Schedule appointments online or call 512.930.3909. 

Originally published, “SKIN CANCER AWARENESS MONTH
(May 1, 2023) Edible Austin