National Skin Cancer Awareness
This week signals the start of a very important time in the dermatology calendar: skin cancer awareness month. In particular, today is the first Monday in May which marks #melanomamonday, a national awareness day focused on educating the public about the risks of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer that kills one American every hour.
These issues are very close to our hearts at Kline Dermatology, as we treat one of the largest melanoma populations in the New York City area and I personally have dedicated my career to skin cancer research and new technologies that are focused on better screening, diagnosing techniques and treatment for patients at risk or suffering from skin cancer.
The last several decades have seen important strides in public education, and for that, we have to be optimistic. While my generation was known for quite literally ‘baking’ in the sun, today, sun protection is almost ‘a la mode’. People finally understand the risks of tanning booths and dangerous UV exposure. They are making the effort to learn about sun protection, risk factors and scheduling their annual skin screening.
But There’s Still Work To Be Done!
The statistics are still humbling. Between 1982 and 2011 melanoma rates doubled. Skin cancer is still the most common cancer in the United States, proving to be more frequent than lung, colon and breast cancers combined. Current estimates indicate that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.
My Advice For Every Patient
There’s no question that there is still a fight to be fought and more work and education to be done. As a small contribution to this, and in honor of skin cancer awareness month, let me leave you with my top tips that I give to each and every patient who is concerned about skin cancer and wants to learn more. *
1. Prevention And Protection
When it comes to skin cancer, as with so many other things, there is nothing more valuable than preventative and protective measures. The most important are, of course, sun avoidance. Particularly avoiding prolonged sun exposure during the peak hours of 10 am to 4 pm. As a dermatologist, I am realistic, and I know that avoiding the sun outright isn’t always realistic. So, if you will be will be sun exposure, the right protection is important:
Always wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen (preferably SPF 50+) and follow the directions carefully. That means that yes, you do need to reapply often, and especially after you’ve been swimming or sweating.
Don’t forget ‘easy to miss’ areas such as the ears, the back of the neck, feet, hands and ‘difficult-to-reach’ spots like the back.
Whenever possible, wear UPF protection clothing, hats, and sunglasses.
Never use a tanning bed and avoid sunbathing of any kind.
2. Know The Skin You’re In
Borrowing from the DermSpectra slogan, there is no better advice that I can give than to really know the skin that you’re in. That means understanding how to conduct regular skin self-exams (good advice can be found here) and familiarizing yourself with your skin. This is a critical first line of defense in the fight again skin cancer as spotting changes in the skin (particularly a mole) such as color, texture, size and shape can be the first red flag that something is wrong (or at least needs to be checked out).
As part of ‘knowing your skin’, it’s also important to know what your personal risk factors are. Fair skinned patients with freckles, lighter eyes, and hair, for example, are at a higher risk of developing skin cancer.
That being said, too often we see patients with darker skin ‘putting off’ skin cancer screenings or reporting changes in their skin because they ‘think they are protected’ and can’t get skin cancer. This can mean that diagnoses are made later (and can be more fatal). My advice? Veer on the side of safety and never miss an annual screening or an opportunity to get checked.
3. See The Experts
I always recommend scheduling an annual skin screening with a board-certified dermatologist (just as you would book an annual physical). For individuals who have had skin cancer before or who are of particular high-risk, they may require more frequent check-ups, but for most patients, once a year is a good rule of thumb (but don’t wait if you notice anything of ‘concern’; better to be safe and have it checked no matter how long it’s been since your last skin exam).
I often recommend scheduling a full skin exam in the fall. It becomes part of the ‘back to school’ mentality post-summer, and it’s a good time to check the skin after a period of higher sun intensity and the likelihood of exposure.
Don’t skip a visit to your ophthalmologist! While rare, skin cancer can occur in the eye.
4. New Opportunities And Innovations
New advances in skin cancer screening, protection and treatment are extremely encouraging. Here are just a few:
While the idea of total body digital skin imaging and other uses of AI for skin screening may sound like science fiction, it’s not. With the digital age, we have more opportunities to standardize the skin cancer screening process to help improve detection rates and lower the rates of unnecessary biopsies (at our practice, the use of DermSpectra screening has helped lower biopsy rates by over 60%!).
Sunscreen technology has improved exponentially in the last few years and I always say that the best sunscreen (aside from one that’s broad-spectrum and over SPF 30) is the one that you will wear and wear diligently. However, one sunscreen that we are very excited about at our office is Eryfotona Actinica SPF 50+. Created by a Spanish company, ISDIN, it includes DNA repairsomes that are shown to help reduce pre-cancerous actinic keratoses.
New treatments for melanoma are bringing about amazing results, including the use of targeted therapy and immunotherapy. For basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma, other advances include photodynamic therapy, reflectance confocal therapy and buried digital imaging.
* Please be advised that this advice is not to replace a personal consultation with your physician.