May is done, which means the official start of summer is here with its barbecues, pool parties, and long days under the sun. Just remember: In your excitement to hit the beach (or maybe jet off to a tropical getaway), bring along a good sunscreen. Skin Cancer Awareness Month may be over, but dermatologists emphasize the importance of educating yourself on the risks of melanoma and more all year round.
The three main forms of skin cancer are melanomas, squamous cell skin cancer, and basal cell skin cancer. Additionally, there are some lesser known forms, such as merkel cell carcinoma. Actinic keratoses (AKs) are considered to be “pre-cancer,” as they can develop into the dangerous disease.
Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. If left untreated, it can spread to other body parts, reaching the blood vessels and lymphatic system and eventually harming internal organs. The National Cancer Institute estimates that there will be 96,480 new cases of melanoma found in 2019. More than a million Americans are living with the disease. Fortunately, when detected in its early stages, this type of cancer is highly curable. The West Hollywood-based dermatologist team at Skin Cancer and Laser Physicians of Beverly Hills is made up of board-certified and highly knowledgeable physicians who work to diagnose and treat all manner of skin disorders. They explain, however, that prevention and vigilance are the most important elements of minimizing risk. Learn the ABCDEs of skin checks, useful for spotting potential signs of skin cancer. Here’s what to watch for when it comes to lesions anywhere on the body:
The majority of moles are benign. Malignant growths can often resemble moles, but healthy moles are typically round and symmetrical. Melanomas vary greatly in appearance, but they frequently appear as asymmetrical lesions, meaning one half does not match the other.
Unlike the obvious borders of benign moles, potentially cancerous lesions are marked by hazy, scalloped, and undefined edges.
Any irregularities, speckles, variations in color, or unusual hues—like blue, purple, red, pink, or white—should be noted. Benign moles are very regularly solid black, brown, or tan.
Large moles are something to watch out for, though it’s important to also remember that melanoma sometimes appears as smaller lesions. Anything larger than around 6mm (the size of a pencil eraser or a pea) should raise a red flag and be examined by a dermatologist.
If previously stable, existing, or new lesions appear to be spreading, growing in size, or changing in shape, height, or color, this evolution should serve as an alert that something may be wrong.
Caucasian men and women who have naturally fair skin that easily freckles or burns, blond or red hair, and light-coloured eyes are the most likely to develop skin cancer, though people of all ethnicities and skin tones are at risk. The typical risk factors are long-term accumulation of UV radiation from sunlight or tanning beds, and a history of exposure to intense sunlight, which may have caused painful, blistering sunburns. Doctors recommend performing self-examinations on a monthly basis—or even more frequently. These exams should cover the entire surface of the body, including areas that aren’t often exposed to the sun, such as the soles of the feet. Don’t forget to take a close look at the nail beds.
Anyone concerned about marks or lesions on their skin is encouraged to consult a qualified dermatologist. The skin-focused physician will first look at the mole to determine if further testing is required. If a skin biopsy is necessary, it will involve extracting and examining cells or samples from the affected layers of skin and superficial fat, then sending them to a laboratory for testing. In the event that the growths are shown to be cancerous, a dermatologist can discuss treatment options with the patient. The type of treatment recommended will depend on the patient’s overall health, as well as the location, type, size, and stage of the cancer.
Learn more about skin cancer and other skin-based medical conditions by contacting the board-certified dermatologists at Skin Care & Laser Physicians of Beverly Hills. Call 310-246-0495 or use the online contact form.