Time for a Body Check for Skin Cancers
With spring and summer finally around the corner, it’s time to ramp up your sun protection and examine body parts that have been hidden all winter!
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 then 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 4 million new cases of basal cell carcinoma diagnosed every year and more then 1 million cases of squamous cell carcinoma. Each of these cancers can be easily treated and cured when found early. Therefore early detection and prevention is paramount.
What to look for? Basal cell carcinomas 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. Basal cell carcinomas are the result of cumulative sun damage combined with occasional intense sun exposure and a history of blistering sunburns.
Squamous cell carcinomas (SCC) are also found in sun exposed areas, but can occur in long-standing wounds and are much more common in those whose immune system is compromised. SCCs can present as warty growths, scaly and tender bumps, or open bleeding sores. The precursor lesion to SCC is a red gritty patch called an actinic keratosis. While SCC is also due to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, they are primarily due to chronic cumulative lifetime UV exposure.
How can we protect and prevent against skin cancer? Both BCC and SCC are primarily due to exposure to UV light. 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. 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.
Nicotinamide 500mg (vitamin B3) taken twice daily has been shown to lower the rate of new skin cancers by over 20%! This therapy is recommended for high-risk patients or those with a previous history of non-melanoma skin cancer.
Most importantly, have your skin checked by a provider who is knowledgeable in identifying atypical and often subtle lesions! Call Advanced Dermatology today to schedule your total body skin exam to screen for skin cancers and to find out how to best protect your skin year-round!
N Engl J Med 2015; 373:1618-1626 Skincancer.org
Photos courtesy of The Skin Cancer Foundation. Photos from top to bottom: (1) Melanoma (2) Basal cell carcinoma (3) Squamous cell carcinoma