“Don’t Let It Get Under Your Skin” When It Comes to Skin Cancer – Prevention and Early Detection


Dr. David L. Dunaway.
Image via Dermatology Partners.
David L. Dunaway, MD, FAAD is a board-certified dermatologist and internist with Philadelphia-based Dermatology Partners. He practices both medical and surgical dermatology, with a focus in skin cancer prevention and treatment and complex medical dermatology.

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer worldwide, with over 5 million cases diagnosed each year in the United States alone. While people usually associate only melanomas with the diagnosis of skin cancer, there are in fact three major types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.

Non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC) refers to the two most common types of skin cancer: basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma. Together, these two diagnoses represent nearly 99 percent of all skin cancers. While non-melanoma skin cancers rarely metastasize – the process of cancer cells spreading to other parts of the body – they can destroy the surrounding skin and leave patients permanently scarred. This is especially true if they are found late, as larger lesions require more involved surgeries.

Melanoma, the most aggressive type of skin cancer, represents approximately 1 percent of total skin cancers. When found early, the five-year survival rate for melanoma is 99 percent. However, later stage melanomas can metastasize to other parts of the body, exponentially decreasing the survival rate.

However, there is good news. The field of dermatology has made great strides in the prevention and early detection of skin cancers over the past 50 years. We now know that the number one cause of all skin cancers is ultraviolet light (UV). Diligent, daily sun protection and avoidance of tanning beds is the most important thing you can do to protect yourself from skin cancers. Dermatologists are also able to detect skin cancers earlier using new technology and specialized visualization tools.

Below are invaluable insights and tips for maintaining skin health and reducing the risk of skin cancer, particularly as we are heading into the summer months where we will be spending more time outdoors at lakes, beaches, and pools.

Sun Protection: The importance of sun protection as the cornerstone of skin cancer prevention can’t be emphasized enough. This includes wearing broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, seeking shade during peak sun hours, and wearing protective clothing, such as wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses. Keep kids protected too. High sun exposure in the first 10 years of life more than doubles the risk of developing melanoma skin cancer.

Regular Skin Checks: Regular self-examinations and professional skin screenings are crucial for detecting skin cancer early. Perform monthly self-checks to monitor for any changes in moles, spots, or lesions. Additionally, scheduling annual skin exams with a dermatology specialist can help detect any suspicious growths early on.

Know Your ABCDEs: Understanding the ABCDEs of melanoma can aid in identifying potentially cancerous moles. Individuals should watch for asymmetry, irregular borders, variations in color, diameters larger than a pencil eraser, and evolving moles. Any changes should prompt a visit to a dermatologist for further evaluation.

Avoid Tanning Beds: Forego the use of tanning beds, as they emit harmful UV radiation that increases the risk of skin cancer. Opting for sunless tanning products or bronzing lotions as safer alternatives can help achieve a sun-kissed glow without the risk.

Stay Hydrated: Keeping the skin well-hydrated is essential for maintaining its health and resilience. Drink plenty of water and using moisturizers to prevent dryness, especially in areas prone to sun exposure.

Grab Your Glasses: Don’t forget your eyes. Sunglasses protect your eyes from ultraviolet light. UV light can have harmful effects on the eyelid, cornea, lens, and retina and can cause various eye cancers.

By incorporating these tips into your skincare routine, you can take proactive steps towards reducing your risk of skin cancer and maintaining healthy, radiant skin. Remember, prevention and early detection are key in the fight against skin cancer, so prioritize sun protection and regular skin checks for optimal skin health.

As a way to give back to the community, Dermatology Partners will be providing free skin cancer screenings to new patients in May as part of National Skin Cancer Awareness Month.

Read more about how Dermatology Partners helps patients with cancer prevention in Dermatology Partners.

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