Skin Cancer Awareness: Prioritize Prevention

by: Robin Lewallen, M.D.

As a dermatologist, I’m dedicated to educating my patients on the importance of skin cancer prevention. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, but with proactive measures, it is also one of the most preventable.


The Importance of Skin Cancer Awareness

Skin cancer can develop in anyone, regardless of skin tone or age. While certain factors, such as excessive sun exposure, fair skin, and a family history of skin cancer, can increase your risk, it’s crucial for everyone to be vigilant about their skin health. By prioritizing prevention, you can significantly reduce your chances of developing this potentially life-threatening condition.


The five most common types of skin cancer are:

1. Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC): Accounting for about 80% of skin cancers, BCC develops from basal cells in the lower epidermis. It often appears as a pearly or waxy bump, a flat, flesh-colored, or brown scar-like lesion, or a bleeding or scabbing sore that heals and returns.

2. Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC): The second most common type, SCC develops from squamous cells in the upper layers of the epidermis. It usually appears as a firm, red nodule or a flat lesion with a scaly, crusted surface and accounts for approximately 20% of skin cancers.

3. Melanoma: While less common than BCC and SCC, melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. It develops from melanocytes, the cells that produce pigment, and represents about 1% of all skin cancers. Melanoma can appear as a new spot or an existing mole that changes in size, shape, or color.

4. Merkel Cell Carcinoma (MCC): A rare, aggressive type of skin cancer that appears as a painless, flesh-colored or bluish-red nodule. MCC is caused by the Merkel Cell Polyomavirus (MCPyV), which is found in up to 80% of MCC tumors. The virus integrates into the host cell DNA and expresses viral proteins that cause tumor formation.

5. Kaposi Sarcoma: A type of skin cancer that causes red lesions, usually on the face, legs, or feet. It is more common in people with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS.


Effective Prevention Strategies

The best way to protect yourself from skin cancer is to practice sun-safe habits on a daily basis. This includes:

-Sunscreen Application: Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher every day, even on cloudy days. Reapply every two hours, or more frequently if swimming or sweating.
-Seek Shade: Avoid direct sun exposure during the peak hours of 10 am to 4 pm, when the sun’s rays are the strongest. Seek shade whenever possible, such as under trees, umbrellas, or canopies.
-Wear Protective Clothing: Cover up with long-sleeved shirts, pants, and wide-brimmed hats to protect your skin from harmful UV rays.
-Avoid Tanning Beds: Steer clear of tanning beds and UV tanning lamps, as they emit the same damaging UV radiation as the sun.
-Perform Regular Self-Examinations: In addition to prevention, it’s important to perform regular self-examinations of your skin. Look for any new or changing moles, spots, or growths, and don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with your dermatologist if you notice anything suspicious.
-Niacinamide: A non-flushing form of vitamin B3, has been shown to reduce the rate of new squamous cell carcinomas and basal cell skin cancers by 23% in patients with a history of skin cancer. The recommended dose for skin cancer prevention is 500mg twice daily. You should discuss with your dermatologist if this is a good addition to your skin cancer prevention program.
-Heliocare: This nutraceutical contains the patented Fernblock® Polypodium leucotomos extract, which has been clinically proven to provide antioxidant protection and help maintain the skin’s ability to protect itself against the aging effects of free radicals. You should discuss with your dermatologist how to best incorporate this into your skin care regimen.


Prioritize Your Skin Health
I encourage all my patients to make skin cancer prevention a top priority. By incorporating sun-safe habits into your daily routine and staying vigilant about self-examinations, you can significantly reduce your risk and enjoy the long-term health of your skin.

Remember, your skin is your body’s largest organ, and it deserves the utmost care and attention. Let’s focus on prevention and work together to keep skin cancer at bay.

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