Local Physicians Discuss Skin Cancer Prevention

Local Physicians Discuss Skin Cancer Prevention

Summer is here and it’s time for some fun in the sun! It’s the time of year when people love to show some skin in their favorite bathing suits and hit the beach or the pool. As you’re out there enjoying the long summer days, don’t forget to protect yourself from the dangerous UVA and UVB rays in sunlight. Skin cancer is a real threat, especially in a climate such as Florida’s, one drenched in sunlight, but there are steps you can take to reduce your risk.

We talked to a couple of local experts for some skin cancer facts and tips. Plastic surgeon Tutu Cheng, MD, offers community seminars on skin and sun care. She tells us about some of the primary risk factors for skin cancer, such as excessive sun exposure and tanning bed use. Having fair skin and light hair also puts one at greater risk for skin cancer. People who burn rather than tan in the sun are at greater risk. Family history can indicate a tendency towards skin cancer as well. Other risk factors include having had radiation treatment, and a suppressed immune system, either due to disease or medication.

Early signs of skin cancer can be very subtle. “Changes in the skin, if you have a lesion that has cropped up recently, I would definitely encourage patients to have that evaluated,” says Dr. Cheng. Also, changes in pre-existing lesions should be checked out. This includes if a lesion is changing in color or size. If a lesion is bleeding, that is a big warning flag that cancer may be present.

What does Dr. Cheng recommend for preventative care? “Cover the skin as much as possible and avoid the sun, though I know that is difficult living in Florida.” The sun is at its most powerful between the hours of 10 and two, so if possible, stay out of the sun during those hours. Of course, this isn’t always practical, so coverage is recommended. Long sleeves, pants, sunglasses, hats, all these items will help protect against excessive sun exposure.

Dr. Neil Sandhu, a Board-certified dermatologist and Mohs surgeon at Daystar Skin and Cancer Center in Poinciana, agrees, adding that wide-brimmed hats can be useful for keeping the sun off the face, ears, and neck. These are areas that are often neglected when applying sunscreen.

Dr. Sandhu also recommends regular use of sunscreen with a high SPF. Sunscreen should protect against both UVA and UVB rays, and the recommendation is to use at least a 30 SPF. “I personally recommend at least an SPF 50,” says Dr. Sandhu, adding “especially living in Florida, and being light-skinned.” When it comes to sunscreen, look for something that is water resistant, too. Whether you’re playing in the pool or just sweating on the shore, water-resistant sunscreen will still only last about 80 minutes. That means that it needs to be reapplied about hourly.

So what should you do if you do notice some change in an area of your skin? Pay a visit to your primary care physician, dermatologist, or plastic surgeon for an evaluation. Often they will biopsy the lesion to determine if cancer is present. This way they can identify whether or not it is cancerous, and if it is, what kind of cancer it is.

Skin cancer is the most prevalent form of cancer there is. There are three primary types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Melanoma is the rarest, but most dangerous. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer, followed by squamous cell carcinoma. Neither of these forms of skin cancer is likely to spread to other parts of the body. Excision, or removal, of the lesion is generally sufficient to treat the cancer.

Melanoma, on the other hand, has a greater tendency to be malignant. It also has a higher likelihood of spreading to other body parts, including the lymph nodes. Surgery is also used to treat melanoma, as is chemotherapy.

Mohs micrographic surgery is a common treatment for basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma. Dr. Sandhu is trained in this treatment and performs it regularly. Basically, the cancerous area is removed, plus some excess skin. A slide is created and analyzed to make sure the margins of the skin are clear of cancer. If they are clear, the patient is stitched up and sent home. If not, then a little more skin is removed until it is evident that all of the cancer has been removed. This type of treatment is 99% effective but does not work for melanoma because the melanoma cells must be stained differently.

At the end of the day, the best protection against skin cancer is a good defense. Protect yourself by covering up and using sunscreen.

By Teresa Schiffer