There might be less sunlight as we get deeper into autumn and daylight savings time ends, but physicians say that doesn’t mean that it’s time to stop doing a once-over of your skin.
“Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S.,” says Dr. Kathleen Hemauer, an oncology and hematology specialist at ThedaCare Cancer Care in Appleton. Current estimates are that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.
Dr. Hemauer suggests people do skin self-exams at home, especially when the skin may be covered up in the fall and winter. “If you spot any skin concerns, talk with your primary care provider and consider a skin cancer screening.”
Who’s Most at Risk?
People most susceptible to skin cancer include:
- Age 50-plus
- Fair skin
- History of sunburns or multiple moles
- Personal history of skin cancer
- Family history of skin cancer
What’s Considered “Suspicious Skin”
“Skin cancer can occur anywhere on the skin, even under nails. Most commonly it occurs in places that are exposed to the most sun, including the scalp, face, arms and legs,” Dr. Hemauer says.
How do you know when you should be concerned with a mole or mark on your skin? Follow the “ABCDE Rule.” Look for:
- Borders that are uneven
- Colors that come in multiple shades
- Diameter greater than ¼ inch (size of a pencil eraser)
- Evolving (or changing over time) marks on the skin
“If you notice any of these changes, please tell your primary care provider or dermatologist,” Dr. Hemauer says.
What to Expect with a Skin Cancer Screening
“The best time of year for skin cancer screenings is anytime,” Dr. Hemauer says. “The earlier a skin cancer is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat.”
A dermatologist typically performs a full, head-to-toe skin exam. Skin cancer screenings usually take about 15 minutes, if nothing suspicious is found.
“Be sure to make note of any spots on your skin you may be concerned about ahead of time,” Dr. Hemauer says.
How Skin Cancer Is Treated
Skin cancer patients receive tailored treatments, which can include surgery to remove the affected area, radiation, chemotherapy, and in more recent years, targeted therapy and immunotherapy.
“There is ongoing research into the use of immunotherapy and targeted treatments for skin cancer, which is very exciting in improving outcomes for our patients, especially those in the advanced stages of the disease,” Dr. Hemauer says.
Immunotherapy better detects and destroys cancer cells using a person’s own immune system. The treatment can help patients with both melanomas (the most serious of skin cancers) and nonmelanomas such as advanced squamous cell and basal cell.
Why Practice Prevention?
Ultimately, prevention is the best medicine. Dr. Hemauer reminds her patients to:
- Avoid the sun during peak hours — even in the winter!
- Cover as much skin as possible to avoid sunburns.
- Use sunscreen with SPF 15 or greater.
- Apply sunscreen every two hours to protect against UVA and UVB rays.
- Avoid indoor tanning.
With all this in mind, Dr. Hemauer says you can still have fun in the sun all year-round.