The Importance of a Body Check, Skin Cancer Detection & Prevention

Did you know that skin cancer is the most common type of cancer? It affects 1 in 5 Americans in their lifetime. While melanoma, a cancer of the pigment-making cells in our skin, is one of the most serious and aggressive skin cancers, it is fortunately much less common than non-melanoma skin cancers: basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). In fact, basal cell carcinomas are the most common of all cancers! There are over 5 million new cases of non-melanoma skin cancers diagnosed every year. The number of melanoma skin cancers diagnosed each year is on the rise with an estimated 192,310 cases expected in 2019. Each of these cancers can be treated and cured when found early.  Therefore, early detection and prevention are paramount.

Skin cancer detection can be challenging but each type of skin cancer does have some unique features. BCCs are typically found on sun-exposed areas of the head and neck, but it can occur anywhere on the body. These cancers can appear as non-healing sores, pink shiny bumps, scaly thin patches, or can even mimic scars. Similarly, squamous cell carcinomas are also found in sun exposed areas but can also occur in long-standing wounds and are much more common in those whose immune systems are compromised. Squamous cell carcinomas can present as warty growths, scaly and tender bumps, or open bleeding sores. Melanoma can present as a new or changing mole, but can also form in pre-existing moles. Melanomas can be asymmetric, multi-colored, and have uneven borders. They can often be subtle and may at times require a trained dermatologist to identify.

Prevention and early detection are our best defense against each type of skin cancer. Environmental factors such as chronic and intense intermittent exposure to UV light are linked to increased risk of skin cancer. Therefore, avoidance of indoor tanning (tanning beds) and protection against natural UV radiation with  daily sunscreen use is our first line of defense. We recommend broad-spectrum sunscreens that protect against both UVA and UVB radiation with an SPF (sun protective factor) of at least 30 and a percentage of zinc oxide that is 5 or higher. Sun protective clothing, wide-brimmed hats, and seeking shade during hours of intense sun exposure are other great ways to block and reduce the effects of these harmful rays on our skin.

A dermatology provider can identify these lesions by performing a total body skin exam which consists of examining the hair, skin, and nails often with the aid of a device called a dermatoscope. This is a painless exam that takes minutes and can be lifesaving!