May is annual Skin Cancer Awareness Month, but it brings focus to a topic that deserves serious attention by you and your patients throughout the year. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S., with more than five million cases diagnosed annually. But it is also one of the most preventable.
Skin Cancer Prevention
The majority of skin cancer cases are caused by prolonged and excessive UV exposure. Wearing sunblock throughout the year is one of the most effective forms of skin cancer prevention. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends applying one ounce of a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher to the entire body thirty minutes before going outside. Harmful UV rays can reflect from surfaces such as glass, water, snow, and sand — and continue to reach the skin even on cloudy days.
Staying in the shade during peak hours of sun (10:00 AM – 2:00 PM) and covering exposed skin with lightweight clothing is advised by the American Academy of Dermatology Association. Hats with a wide brim and sunglasses with UV protection are also recommended.
Some of your patients may inquire about sun-protective clothing, which can also be effective. To qualify for the Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation, a fabric must have a UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) of 30 or higher.
What Your Patients Can Look For
There are three main types of skin cancers that you and your patients should watch for:
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Often appearing in areas of the body with the greatest sun exposure, including the face and neck, this type of skin cancer may develop as a waxy or pearly bump, flesh-colored lesion resembling a scar, or a sore that cyclically scabs and heals.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Similar to basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma often appears on the face, hands, and other areas most frequently exposed to the sun, but may also be found anywhere, including bottoms of the feet, inside the mouth, and on genitalia. Usually, this skin cancer manifests as a red, firm nodule or scaly lesion.
A – Asymmetry: Most melanomas have an irregular shape.
B – Borders: The borders of a melanoma are often scalloped or uneven.
C – Color: Benign moles are usually a consistent shade of brown, while a melanoma can also have hues of white, blue, or red.
D – Diameter (or also Dark): Melanomas may start small, but can grow larger than a pencil eraser. Additionally, melanomas typically appear darker than other moles.
E – Evolving: Changes in size, shape, and color, as well as bleeding or itching, should also be monitored.
Other Risk Factors
As with other cancers, having a family history of skin cancer can increase a patient’s risk for the disease. Fair skin that burns easily, blue or green eyes, and red or blonde hair, are also some common risk factors. Because everyone is exposed to UV rays in one way or another, however, skin cancer can arise in patients of any skin color.
Early detection is critical for effective skin cancer treatment. Self-examination of the skin and regular examinations with a primary care doctor or dermatologist are recommended by the American Cancer Foundation. But proactive genetic testing may also indicate potential risk. At LifeBrite Labs, we provide Inherited Cancer Screenings to detect pathogenic variants associated with an increased risk for developing hereditary cancer, including melanoma.
Our CLIA certified and COLA-accredited laboratory serves health care organizations across the United States, with a team that handles every sample with utmost care and commitment to timely accuracy. To inquire about this service or other testing, contact us online, or at (678) 433-0607.