What You Need to Know About Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States, with more than five million diagnoses of basal and squamous cell skin cancers every year. Melanoma is both less common and more deadly: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 84,000 new people will be diagnosed this year, and over 8,000 will die from it. Recent data reveals that citizens of Florida experienced 7,300 new cases of melanoma, making it the state most prone to skin cancer diagnoses.

The main risk for melanoma is exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVA and UVB) from sunlight or tanning beds (which increase your risk of melanoma by 75 percent, according to the Melanoma Research Alliance). It’s no surprise, then, that while the average age for a melanoma diagnosis is 63, it is the most commonly diagnosed cancer for young adults, specifically women, between the ages of 25 and 29. 

How to Spot Skin Cancer

Fortunately, if you know what to look for, you can find early warning signs of skin cancer, which often makes it easier to treat. Many dermatologists and primary care physicians include skin exams as part of their annual check-ups. It is also recommended that you check your own skin once a month. Look over your body in a well-lit room and in front of a full-length mirror with a hand-held mirror for hard-to-see spots. 

Basal and squamous cell skin cancers, which are usually treatable, typically grow on parts of the body most exposed to the sun, including the face, neck, and head. For basal cell carcinomas, look for:

  • Flat, firm, pale, or yellow areas, which may resemble a scar
  • Raised, reddish patches that may be itchy
  • Small, translucent, shiny, pearly bumps that are pink or red with possible blue, brown, or black areas
  • Pink areas with raised edges, a lower area in the center, and possible abnormal blood vessels spreading out like spokes of a wheel
  • Open sores with oozing or crusted areas that don’t heal or heal and return

For squamous cell carcinomas, look for:

  • Rough or scaly red patches with crusting or bleeding
  • Raise growths or lumps
  • Open sores with oozing or crusted areas that don’t heal or heal and return
  • Wart-like growths

Use the ABCDE rules for guidance when looking for melanoma.

  • Asymmetry: Notice if one part of a mole or birthmark doesn’t match the other.
  • Border: Look for edges that are irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred.
  • Color: Examine to see if the color is not the same all over. Also, look for varying shades of brown or black with patches of pink, red, white, or blue.
  • Diameter: Although melanoma can be smaller, notice if any spots are larger than 1/4 inch across — about the size of a pencil eraser.
  • Evolution: Pay close attention to moles that change in size, shape, or color. 

Additionally, be aware of new spots; changing spots; itching, tenderness, or pain; and any sore that doesn’t heal. 

Skin Cancer Prevention

The best way to prevent skin cancer is to take a multi-pronged approach. First, pick a sunscreen that’s SPF 30 with zinc oxide and a “broad-spectrum” label (meaning it blocks both UVA and UVB). For whole body protection, reapply a shot glass of sunscreen every two hours. Put sunscreen on your lips too! Additionally, wear a hat that covers your neck and ears. When possible, wear long-sleeve shirts, sun shirts, or rash guards, especially for kids. To protect from melanoma in your eyes, wear sunglasses with a “UV 400” label to ensure they’re providing UVA and UVB coverage. Finally, avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when the rays are the strongest. 

It’s important for Floridians to realize they live in a location where the UV index is much higher than people think. Also note that UVA is present on cloudy days and can even penetrate your car windows. Follow these guidelines for monthly skin checks and daily sun safety to best protect yourself from skin cancer.

Reach out to Dr. Asha Tota-Maharaj, MD at Platinum Primary Care — referred to as “Winter Park’s best kept secret!” — with all your healthcare needs. Come visit us at our new office: 2071 Dundee Drive in Winter Park.