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The Skinny on Skin Cancer: What Everyone Should Know

What you can do to help prevent and detect cancerous changes to the skin

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The Skinny on Skin Cancer: What Everyone Should Know

As the weather warms up and you spend more days out in the sun, it’s the perfect time to become familiar with skin cancer and what steps you can take to prevent it.

To help raise awareness of this serious condition, surgical oncologist Aaron Blackham, MD, with Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute, shares the most important things he wants you to know about skin cancer:

How common is skin cancer?

In the United States, skin cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed each year.

“I see around 100 new patients with skin cancer each year, but that number keeps increasing,” Blackham says.

There is good news, though. The two most common types of skin cancer – basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma – are often curable when found and treated early. Even melanoma – the third most common type of skin cancer and the one most likely to spread to other parts of the body – has more treatment options than ever before.

Skin cancer prevention

One of the main risk factors for developing skin cancer is too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays. While the most common source of these rays is the sun, tanning beds and sunlamps expose you to them, too.

To prevent skin cancer, it’s best to:

  • Stay in the shade when relaxing outdoors
  • Cover up as much skin as possible outside and wear a hat and sunglasses
  • Apply a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 35 or higher before going outdoors and reapply it every two hours. 
  • Reapply sunscreen after getting out of the water, even if you’re using water-resistant sunscreen.
  • Avoid being in the sun during mid-day hours when sun exposure is the most intense
  • Avoid tanning beds and other tanning technologies entirely

While individuals with fair skin, freckles, light eyes, naturally red or blond hair, and/or a history of blistering sunburns have a much higher risk for developing skin cancer than others, everyone has some risk and should take steps to protect themselves from UV rays.

Skin cancer symptoms and detection

The most common sign of skin cancer is a change to the skin, like a new growth, a sore that isn’t healing or a mole that has changed.

If you have moles on your skin, it’s important to keep an eye on them and make sure they are not showing any characteristics of possible melanoma using the acronym, ABCDE:

  • Asymmetric, which means the two halves of the mole aren’t mirror images
  • Borders that have irregular edges
  • Color that varies from one end of the mole to the other
  • Diameter that is wider than the eraser tip of a pencil
  • Evolving, which means the mole is growing or changing color over time, or Elevation, which means the mole has become raised

Even if you check your moles regularly, everyone should get a skin cancer screening done by a dermatologist every one to three years (depending on your complexion, age and level of exposure to UV rays). During these visual exams, doctors look for suspicious moles and freckles, discolored or bleeding patches, and other marks that may indicate cancer.

“Early detection offers the best chance for successful skin cancer treatment, and regular self-exams and full-body skin screenings by dermatologists allow for this,” Blackham says.

Advances in skin cancer treatment

While treatment for early-stage skin cancer is often straightforward, skin cancers that have the tendency to spread to other parts of the body are more difficult to treat and are associated with lower survival rates. This is especially true for melanoma, which is the deadliest type of skin cancer.

Luckily, treatment for melanoma has come a long way over the last decade, and at Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute, we offer the latest treatments for this condition and a multidisciplinary approach to care. This involves evaluation by a team of experts from various specialties who develop an individualized treatment plan for each patient.

“Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute has vast expertise treating all types of skin cancer, from early-stage cases to those that have spread to other parts of the body,” Blackham says. “Along with offering a multidisciplinary approach to care, we provide access to a variety of clinical trials and treatment options that are not available anywhere else in the region.”

Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute

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Learn more about skin cancer care

LVHN.org/SkinCancer

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