Freckles, moles and little bumps here and there are just a part of life for most adults. While the majority are nothing to be alarmed about, it’s important to watch for any changes in those freckles and moles. Changes could signal early signs of skin cancer.
Know the Skin You’re In
Dr. Jason Miller, certified dermatologist and regional medical director of Schweiger Dermatology Group and consulting physician with Shore Cancer Center, said skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, with 1 in 5 diagnosed during their lifetime. Dr. Miller added that skin cancer is also the most preventable former of cancer and easily treated if diagnosed early. Self-examination of the skin is important for everyone. “We emphasize the ABCDE rule with our patients when they do a self-exam and what they should look for: Asymmetry of spots, Borders that are irregular, Colors that are not uniform, Diameter greater than 6mm, or Evolving lesions.
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), knowing your own skin is important to finding skin cancer early. Optimally, ACS suggests self-checking once a month after bathing in front of a full length mirror. During the initial self-examination, take the time to carefully look at the entire skin surface. Learn the pattern of moles, blemishes and freckles and other marks on the skin so any changes in the future will be noticeable. Use a handheld mirror to look at hard-to-see places like the back of legs, thighs, and consider asking a close friend or partner to help with your scalp and back. Checking skin regularly will help identify anything that is out of the ordinary and should be mentioned to a physician.
Types of Skin Cancer
There are three types of skin cancer: basal cell, squamous and melanoma. According to Dr. Miller, basal cell presents as a pink bump that can bleed. These are the most common and usually the mild form of skin cancer. Squamous cell can be a little thicker and may have some associated discomfort. Melanoma, the most severe form of the skin cancers is usually, but not always, pigmented.
Small pre-cancerous patches may appear on the skin. Dr. Miller said these patches are actinic keratosis and most dermatologists believe that around 5-10 % of the patches may progress into squamous cell carcinoma. “We treat them because we cannot predict which patches will or will not progress to cancer,” said Dr. Miller. “There are topical medications for these patches, including topical formulations of chemotherapy medications and medications that stimulate the body’s immune system to destroy these patches. Often they can lower the risk of skin cancer and lead to less scarring.”
Dr. Miller advises patients who have had a mole or patch removed to use common sense sun safety:
- Avoid the mid-day sun if possible.
- Schedule outdoor plans for early or late in the day.
- Use a hat and sun protective clothing when possible.
- Apply sunscreen every day, even if it is cloudy.
New Medications in the Skin Cancer Battle
The battle against skin cancer has seen major advances in the past decade, according to Dr. Miller. “The discovery of immunotherapy, where the body’s immune system is tricked into attacking the cancer cells along with targeted genetic-based therapy has led many patients to have significantly longer lives. The key here is still to prevent these cancers in the first place,” said Dr. Miller.