Skin Cancer

Skin Cancer

Skin cancer awareness:

Skin cancer is by far the most common subtype of skin cancer in the United States.  The three most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and malignant melanoma.  All three can cause morbidity and mortality, but the latter two are typically the more dangerous ones.  

These cancers are most often found in areas exposed to the sun, such as the head, neck, and arms, but they also can occur elsewhere. They are very common but are also usually very treatable if found early. 

The good news is that you can do a lot to protect yourself and your family from skin cancer, or catch it early so that it can be treated effectively. Most skin cancers are caused by too much exposure to the sun or other carcinogens.  Most of this exposure comes from the sun, but some may come from indoor tanning beds and sun lamps.   You don’t need any x-rays or blood tests to find skin cancer early – just your eyes and a mirror. 

Importance of early screenings:

If you have skin cancer, finding it early is the best way to make sure it can be treated with success.  Regular screenings with a dermatologist as well as self checks can help to protect you and your loved ones from skin cancer.  We can see areas that may be more difficult for you yourself to see (back, neck, scalp, etc).  Regardless, be on the lookout for the following signs:

  • Surface appears to be changing – scaliness, oozing, bleeding, or the appearance of a raised bump or papule
  • Wound/sore that does not heal after one month
  • Redness or a new swelling beyond the border of a mole or other lesion
  • Change in sensation (more itchy/painful)
  • Changing mole or lesion that is growing 

Common Myths:


 I have olive/darker skin and so I don’t need to use sunscreen and am not going to get skin cancer:


False, people with darker skin can and do get skin cancer, -especially the Hispanic and Filipino populations.  Bob Marley himself died of a melanoma.  It can be more difficult to detect a skin cancer in these skin types so the diagnosis often is delayed, leading to worsened outcomes.  


I only get sun once a year and therefore am not worried about my skin cancer risk


Intermittent acute sun exposure (one or two bad burns a year) can raise your risk for melanoma exponentially.  Brief intense sun exposure overwhelms your body’s DNA repair mechanisms, allowing mutations to build up in your skin cells that later lead to skin cancer.  One tanning session at a UV bed may increase your risk of malignant melanoma by twenty percent!


It’s cloudy so I don’t need to worry about sun protection today


While clouds block most of the visible spectrum of light they fail unfortunately to block UV light (a wavelength of the sun’s energy that is impossible to see but which causes skin cancer).  That means even on cloudy or winter days we must be careful to utilize sun protection.


"I don’t have moles, so I’m not at risk of skin cancer."


People with abundant moles are at higher risk of skin cancer, but that doesn’t mean everyone else is exempt. People need to watch for any changes in individual moles, or skin spots.  Some skin cancers, including melanoma, can appear as just pink bumps that don’t go away.