Stay Aware of Skin Cancer All Year Long

With Skin Cancer Awareness Month having ended months ago, the Ironwood Dermatology team wanted to be sure that this important topic doesn’t get lost amid early fall plans—especially since there’s no start or end date for skin cancer. Arizona residents are used to sunny days, so it stands to reason that they also should be used to properly applying sunscreen, but “should be” and “are” can be miles apart.

There’s no shame in admitting you need a refresher on proper sunscreen use.

Use Enough: The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using an ounce of sunscreen to cover all exposed skin. That’s a shot glass full. Obviously some people are larger and some are smaller, so the amount should be adjusted accordingly. Just know that many people use less sunscreen than is required to be effective.

Start Early: This tip has two meanings. First, you’re never too young to start wearing an age-appropriate sunscreen. One risk factor for skin cancer later in life is frequent sunburns—especially those that blister—in childhood. Develop good skincare habits young, and encourage those around you to do the same. Second, sunscreen requires a little time on the skin before it’s effective at protecting against UV rays, so apply a layer roughly 20 to 30 minutes before going outdoors.

Double Up: One layer for your day is almost certainly not enough, especially if you’re outdoors and active. Apply a new layer of sunscreen every two hours, but be prepared to slather it on sooner if your first application is washed off by the ocean or pool, or if you sweat a lot.

Don’t Skip It: Ultraviolet rays can get to you even if you aren’t exposed under a clear blue sky. Vehicular travel (riding in a car, truck, or van) is a significant source of cumulative sun exposure, and even overcast days don’t protect you from damage. Make it a rule: If you’re going outside, wear sunscreen.

Get it Everywhere: If your skin can see the sun, the sun can damage your skin. It’s easy to remember your nose and arms—or your bare back, if you’re at the beach—but don’t forget the tops of your feet, the tops of your ears, and your scalp, especially if you’ve got thin (or no) hair.

If you’re experiencing the results of a lifetime of poor sunscreen habits, don’t kick yourself. The team at Ironwood Dermatology offers skin cancer screenings, as well as treatments for a range of sun-caused medical and cosmetic problems. Find out more by calling 520.618.1630 or visit www.ironwooddermatology.org.

SKIN CANCER AND THE SOUTHWEST

Skin cancer is the most prevalent of all cancers with over one million Americans developing skin cancer this year. It has been in the media as of late with the news that the First Lady recently had a squamous cell carcinoma removed from her leg. Skin cancer is a very common occurrence here in the southwest and some statistics have indicated that the Tucson area has the second highest incidence of skin cancer in the world.

Basal cell carcinoma

  • Most common skin cancer
  • Appears as a pearly bump, nodule or red plaque
  • Grows slowly over months
  • Generally occurs on sun-exposed areas
  • They can occur in areas that are not frequently exposed to the sun
  • When untreated, will often bleed, crust over, heal, and then repeat the cycle.

Basal cell carcinomas rarely metastasize

  • They can cause significant local damage
  • Squamous cell carcinoma
  • Second most common type of skin cancer
  • Usually occurs on sun-exposed areas, including the ears, face (including the lips), neck and arms
  • Typically appear as red, scaly plaques that may bleed and never heal
  • Can metastasize to other areas of the body
  • It is important to have them treated early.

Melanoma

  • The most dangerous type of skin cancer
  • It is estimated that 8,000 Americans will die from it this year
  • Usually pigmented (dark in color)
  • Frequently have an irregular shape
  • Uneven borders
  • Variations in color.
  • May be larger than average nevi (moles)
  • They often change in shape and/or color
  • They can occasionally bleed, or be itchy or painful
  • May develop in a pre-existing nevus or start as a new, dark lesion.

Prevention is the best defense against skin cancer. While sun avoidance it the best prevention, it is hard to completely avoid the sun here in the southwest. Sun protection is our next level of defense. The cowboys had it right by wearing wide-brimmed hats, long-sleeved shirts made of dense fabric, and pants. That is not the usual attire in Tucson, especially during the summer, so high SPF broad spectrum sunscreen, hats that cover the ears, and clothing designed for sun protection are recommended daily.

Skin cancer is highly curable with early detection and treatment. We recommend that patients perform a self-assessment skin exam monthly and be seen by a dermatologist at least once a year for a complete skin exam. If you have a lesion you are concerned about, have it checked by a dermatologist as soon as possible.

By Dr. Colin R. Trout, M.D. Dermatologist. Tucson Arizona.

SKIN CANCER – The different types, and what to look for when examining your own skin

There are three major types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and malignant melanoma. With an estimated annual incidence in the United States of 900,000, the most common type of skin cancer (and all cancer, for that matter) is basal cell carcinoma (BCC). The lifetime risk of developing BCC for Caucasian people is about 35% in men and 25% in women. BCC is thought to arise from hair follicle stem cells that lie below the surface of the skin. It typically occurs in areas of chronic sun exposure and often has as a waxy or pearly appearance. Although BCC is usually slow growing and very rarely spreads (metastasizes) to other organs of the body, if left untreated, it can be quite disfiguring. Fortunately, the prognosis is excellent with proper therapy. Treatment typically involves either surgical excision or removal via electrodessication and curettage (a simple “scrape and burn” technique).

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), the second most common type of skin cancer, afflicts about 200,000 Americans per year. It arises from the epidermis, the outermost layer of the skin, and like BCC, tends to occur on sun-exposed areas. The rim of the ear and the lower lip are particularly vulnerable to development of SCC. These cancers often present as wart-like growth that crust and occasionally bleed. Although most are diagnosed early enough to successfully treat with surgical excision or electrodessication and curettage, untreated SCC can metastasize to distant tissues and can be fatal.

Malignant melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. Over 50,000 new cases are reported each year, and the incidence is rising more rapidly than any other type of cancer. The tumor originates in melanocytes, the cells that give skin, hair and eyes their pigment. Therefore, most melanomas are black or brown in color, but they can rarely be pink, purple, red or skin-colored. They tend to be flat, with irregularly-shaped borders. If diagnosed and surgically removed early, the cure rate approaches 100%. As the cancer advances, the risk of metastasis to other organs increases dramatically. Once this occurs, treatment is difficult, and many cases result in death.

The most important thing you can do to limit your risk of developing one of these types of skin cancer is to protect your skin from the sun by avoiding sun exposure from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, wearing sun protective clothing and using sunscreen routinely. It is also important to examine your skin monthly for any suspicious growths and new or changing moles. If you notice anything unusual, see your dermatologist for an evaluation. If you do in fact have a skin cancer, it will in all likelihood, be completely curable.

About the author
Doctor Robyn E. Glaesser is a practicing Dermatologist at Ironwood Dermatology located at 1735 E. Skyline Drive • Tucson, AZ 85718 • 520-618-1630 • Fax: 520-618-1636
www.ironwooddermatology.org