Skin cancer, the most common form of cancer in the United States, will affect 1 in 5 Americans in their lifetime.
Every year, more than 5.4 million cases of nonmelanoma skin cancer are treated in more than 3.3 million people, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. In addition, there are more new cases of skin cancer than the combined incidence of cancers of the breast, prostate, lung, and colon.
Because skin cancer is so prevalent, patients should be aware of how best to prevent, detect, and treat it. Organizations like the Skin Cancer Foundation can provide great resources into what patients need to know and what they can expect if they are diagnosed with skin cancer.
Skin Cancer Foundation spokesperson Dr. Cheryl Gustafson, told CURE
about five important facts patients should know about skin cancer.
1. Skin protection is important all year-round, not just in the summer.
Dr. Gustafson suggested patients implement sun protection into their daily regimen.
Applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen should be part of a morning routine, just like brushing one’s teeth or washing one’s face. Dr. Gustafson also noted that patients should apply the sunscreen to all exposed areas. So, in addition to the face, patients should rub sunscreen into their ears, neck, upper chest area, and backs of the hands.
“Many patients say that they don’t spend much time outside, but even if you are sitting indoors next to a window, you are still getting sun exposure, as UVA radiation can penetrate through window glass,” Dr. Gustafson said. “This type of radiation can penetrate deeper into the skin, leading to premature skin aging and skin cancer.”
2. The ABCDEs of melanoma can help patients remember what warning signs to look out for.
Dr. Gustafson offered the following device to remember the warning signs of melanoma:
is looking for something asymmetric or uneven. If patients can imagine folding the image of a mole in half, the 2 folds should match.
is for border, meaning that the mole should have smooth, even borders.
is for color. Patients should keep an eye out for any moles that become lighter or darker.
is for diameter. Melanomas are usually larger than ¼ inch, or the size of a pencil eraser.
is for evolving, which would be any mole that is new or changing.
Dr. Gustafson recommended that patients look at their body from head to toe every month. If something stands out or is changing, they should contact their dermatologist immediately.
She also suggested using a body map
, which is a tool to track lesions over time.
3. Skin cancer is highly treatable when detected early.
In terms of what to expect, patients who are diagnosed with skin cancer should make an appointment to get the cancer treated or removed within four to eight weeks of the diagnosis.
One thing to know — what Dr. Gustafson said is the “number one prognostic factor” — is the Breslow thickness, which is how deep the melanoma extends into the skin. This depth will determine what kind of treatment is needed.
“While skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, it is highly treatable when detected early,” she said. “In fact, most nonmelanoma skin cancers are curable when detected early. Likewise, if melanoma is diagnosed and treated early, it is usually curable as well.”
4. Certain patient populations face a greater risk of skin cancer, but anyone, regardless of skin color, can develop cancer.
Most people may know that patients with fair skin, blue eyes or red hair face a greater risk, but Dr. Gustafson emphasized that all skin types can develop skin cancer.
Patients who have a weakened immune system, such as those receiving chemotherapy or those who have undergone organ transplantation, should be aware that they have a greater risk for developing skin cancer, too.
“It is critical for organ transplant patients to follow-up with their dermatologist for routine skin checks at least twice a year, as this patient population is at a much higher risk for developing skin cancer, especially squamous cell carcinoma,” Dr. Gustafson said. “In fact, organ transplant patients are up to 250 times more likely than the general public to develop squamous cell carcinoma.”
5. It’s not too late to start protecting your skin.
Patients of all ages should practice proper skin protection, Dr. Gustafson said.
“It’s never too late to adopt a proper sun protection regimen, since sun damage is cumulative,” she said.
Some of the tips the foundation recommends for a complete sun protection regimen include using sunscreen on a daily basis, wearing wide-brimmed hats and UV-blocking sunglasses, and staying in the shade.