If you’re like most Floridians, you’ve taken advantage of our summer and spent a good deal of time outdoors playing golf, tennis, boating, fishing, or just walking our magnificent beaches. In Florida, we are fortunate to enjoy these activities year-round. However, all of that exposure to the sun is something of which to be mindful. Skin cancer in Florida is more common because of the intensity of the sun.
According to the American Cancer Society, more than a million Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer this year. In my dermatology practice, I have noted the increased number of patients that we are seeing with skin cancer. That’s not surprising when you understand the risk factors for skin cancer.
Exposure to UV radiation that comes from the sun, sun lamps, tanning beds or tanning booths is a primary risk factor. A person’s risk of skin cancer is related to lifetime exposure to UV radiation. Most skin cancer appears after age 50, but the sun damages the skin from an early age. UV radiation affects everyone. That’s why an annual skin exam is so important.
The two most common types of skin cancer are basal cell cancer and squamous cell cancer. They usually form on the head, face, neck, hands and arms. But skin cancer can occur anywhere. Basal cell skin cancer grows slowly. Squamous cell skin cancer sometimes spreads to lymph nodes and organs inside the body. The third form of skin cancer, Melanoma, is generally the most serious form of skin cancer because it tends to spread (metastasize) throughout the body quickly.
The most common warning sign of skin cancer is a change in the appearance of the skin, such as a new growth or a sore that will not heal. Unexplained changes in the appearance of the skin lasting longer than two weeks should be evaluated by an experienced dermatologist. According to the National Cancer Institute, the cure rate for basal cell and squamous cell cancers could be 100% if they were brought to a dermatologist’s attention before they had a chance to spread. Because cumulative sun exposure is a primary risk factor, it’s very important for all of us to have an annual skin cancer exam. In that manner, we can compare changes in the patient’s skin, from year-to-year.
Checking your skin for new growths or changes is a good idea. You should report any changes to your dermatologist right away.
Often, the first sign of melanoma is a change in the size, shape color or feel of an existing mole. Melanoma may also appear as a new mole. It may be black, or “ugly looking.”
Don’t use photos to try to diagnose your own skin cancer. They can’t take the place of a dermatologist’s examination.
If you haven’t made an appointment for your summer-ending skin cancer exam, now is the time. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer. The earlier it is diagnosed, the better the chance for cure.