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Spotting Skin Cancer – Get Screened

Posted by Frederic Haberman, DO, FAAD, FAACS, Chief of Dermatology at Holy Name Medical Center on May 2, 2019


Skin cancer is by far the most common type of cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. And if you know what to look for, you can spot the warning signs early, when the cancer has not spread and is easier to treat.

But we may not always realize that an itchy dry patch or a pimple-like growth can also be the symptoms of skin cancer that should not be ignored. This makes skin cancer screenings all the more important.

Dr. Fredric Haberman, Chief of Dermatology at Holy Name Medical Center, is one of the pioneers of the American Academy of Dermatology’s long-standing SPOTme® Skin Cancer Screening Program. He urges everyone to have a yearly skin cancer screening.

“Skin cancer is not only one of the most preventable forms of cancer, it’s also highly treatable when detected early,” says Dr. Haberman. “Now is a good time to recognize the dangers of sun exposure from inadequate skin protection and learn how to protect it properly.”

In between screenings with your doctor, you may also want to check your own skin about once a month. Dr. Haberman says it’s best to look at your skin in a well-lit room in front of a full-length mirror. Use the “ABCDE rule” to look for some of the common signs of melanoma, one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer. “A is for asymmetry in the spot, B for an irregular border, C for uneven color, D for a large diameter, and E for an evolving growth,” he explains.

He also suggests:

  • Checking the skin on all surfaces of your body, even in your mouth.
  • Watching for a new mole or other new growth on your skin.
  • Checking for changes in the appearance of an old growth on the skin or a scar (especially a burn scar).
  • Watching for a patch of skin that is a different color and becomes darker or changes color, or a sore that does not heal (it may bleed and crust).
  • Checking your nails for a dark band. Check with your doctor if you see any changes, e.g., if the dark band begins to spread.

“There are many different types of skin cancer, such as melanoma and basal cell skin cancer; each type looks different,” notes Dr. Haberman. Some skin cancers can look like a thick and jagged scar, others like a dark, or black, bump. The bump may seem waxy or shiny, or smooth and waxy. It may look like a firm red lump.

Skin cancer in dark-skinned people often looks different from skin cancer in people with fair skin.

"A change on the skin is the most common sign of skin cancer,” says Dr. Haberman. “Don’t wait until a skin change looks like a more advanced skin cancer. See your doctor as soon as you can.”

Sunscreen – Got You Covered?

With dozens of options on drug store shelves, it's not always easy to choose. From SPF to UVA and every letter in between, Dr Haberman tells you what you need to know to best protect yourself and your family this summer and beyond.

It's pretty much common knowledge that the sun may cause skin cancer and people should protect themselves. What's not common knowledge, however, is how to choose the right protection. The wide variety of lotions and sprays, with an equal array of ingredients, can be confusing and overwhelming.

But the American Cancer Society has very specific guidelines when it comes to this purchase.

Broad Spectrum

First and foremost, choose a sunscreen with "broad spectrum" protection. Only sunscreens with this label protect against both UVA and UVB rays. These ultraviolet rays do the most harm to the skin. Typically, all sunscreens protect against UVB rays, which causes sunburn as well as skin cancers but not all protect against UVA rays, which are just as harmful.

SPF 30 (at least)

Next, choose a sunscreen that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. The SPF number is the level of protection the sunscreen provides against UVB rays. According to the American Cancer Society, SPF 15 sunscreens filter out about 93% of UVB rays, while SPF 30 sunscreens filter out about 97%, SPF 50 sunscreens about 98%, and SPF 100 about 99%. No sunscreen protects you completely, however, it is one of your best protections against sunburn, premature aging, and many skin cancers.

Water Resistant vs Waterproof

Contrary to popular belief, if a product's label says it is "water resistant," that does not mean it's "waterproof." No sunscreens are completely waterproof and according to the Food and Drug Administration, manufacturers are not allowed to claim that they are. The American Cancer Society says if a product's label makes claims of being water resistant, it must specify whether it lasts for 40 minutes or 80 minutes while swimming or sweating. For the best coverage, reapply every two hours, at least.

Zinc Oxide

Other options that also protect against both UVA and UVB rays are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide products. Unlike traditional sunscreens, these minerals are not absorbed by the skin. Rather, they sit on top of it to form a barrier against the sun's rays.

Slip! Slop! Slap!

Because no single step can fully protect you and your family from overexposure to UV radiation, follow as many of the following tips as possible:

  • Do not burn or tan; avoid using tanning beds
  • Seek shade; reduce sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Wear sun-protective clothing, including wide-brim hats, sunglasses, and clothing with ultraviolet protection factor (UPF)
  • Generously apply sunscreen of SPF 30-50 every two hours
  • Use extra caution near water, snow, and sand
  • Get vitamin D safely
  • Take selfies of your moles to assist in monitoring

Remember to Slip! Slop! Slap! And wrap up when you're outdoors. Slip on a shirt, slop on broad spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher, slap on a wide-brimmed hat, and wrap on sunglasses.

Protecting Baby

If your baby is 6 months or older, apply sunscreen liberally. If your baby is younger than 6 months, you want to keep him or her out of direct sunlight and use protective clothing, including a hat with a brim and even sunglasses. Because babies can get overheated, avoid exposure to the sun during peak hours, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Sunscreen Saves Lives

It's really very simple, sunscreen can save a life. For more information, please visit holyname.org/skincancer/.