Skin cancer is considered by the American Cancer Society to be the most common of all types of cancer. One estimate says that about 5.4 million basal and squamous cell skin cancers are diagnosed each year, occurring in about 3.3 million Americans (some people have more than one type of skin cancer). However, death from skin cancer is uncommon; according to the American Cancer Society, it is thought that about 2,000 people in the United States die each year from these cancers.
“Most people who die from these cancers are elderly and may not have seen a doctor until the cancer had already grown quite large,” the ACS said on their website. “Other people more likely to die of these cancers are those whose immune system is suppressed, such as those who have had organ transplants.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, the risk of skin cancer can be reduced by limiting or avoiding exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Through this, Ann Welch, FNP-C, with Trinity Health’s Dermatology department maintains that sunscreen and surveillance are two important ways to avoid skin cancer.
The majority of malignant melanoma is caused by sun exposure, she said. “Some are hereditary, but the vast majority are from some exposure.”
When it comes to preventing exposure to the sun, wearing sunscreen can help. Sunscreen, which absorbs or reflects some of the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation, protects against sunburn.“The more sun you get, that increases your risk of getting skin cancer,” Welch said.
Sunscreens have an SPF, a sun protection factor, that measures the fraction of sunburn producing UV rays that reach the skin. “The numbers will tell you how long you can be out in the sun, how many minutes you can be out in the sun before you develop a reaction to the sun,” Welch said.
For example, sunscreen with an SPF 15 means that you can be out in the sun 15 times longer before you burn. The levels can vary from person to person, depending on skin tone, Welch noted.
Clothing, such as hats and shirts with long sleeves, can also protect against the sun.
Welch said that keeping an eye out for “the A-B-C-Ds of malignant melanoma” are important. Those include:
• Asymmetry – Is the lesion uniform in shape. “If you cut it along its long axis, is it a mirror image?” Welch said. “If it’s square or round, it’s still a mirror image of itself.”
• Border – Can you see where the lesion begins and ends on your skin. “There should be a clear border,” Welch said. “Does it look like someone penciled it in? You should see the edge of that lesion. If not, those are cause for concern.”
• Color– Is the color uniform throughout? The color can range from light tan to dark brown. “Do they have other moles that are similar in that color, or is it an odd man out?” Welch said. “Is it darker than any other lesions on your skin?”
• Diameter – Is it smaller than a pencil eraser, which is six millimeters? Welch said that malignant melanoma can include any one of these symptoms.
If any of these symptoms presents, contact your primary care provider or a dermatologist.
At Trinity Health’s Dermatology department, “We look at lesions through a dermatoscope, a special light we use to light up lesions to look for specific patterns that determine if it’s a benign mole versus malignant melanoma,” Welch said. If it appears to be a malignant melanoma, a biopsy would be completed, which would then confirm whether it was or not.
Trinity Health’s Dermatology department includes Ann Welch, FNP-C, and Jennifer Hunter, MD. For more information, call 857-7382 (Welch) or 857-5760 (Hunter), or visit www.trinityhealth.org/dermatology.