In our first blog of the New Year, we discussed some basics of having your skin checked for skin cancer. Let’s get into this a little bit more, as skin cancer is a very serious issue.
Am I at risk for skin cancer?
Exposure to natural and artificial ultraviolet light is a risk factor for all types of skin cancer. Basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma results from accumulated UV exposure over time. Melanoma also develops from accumulated UV rays, but also from scorching sunburns.
- One blistering sunburn during childhood or adolescence (and most of us have had a few) doubles a person’s chances for developing melanoma later in life. Five or more of these types of sunburns increases your melanoma chances by 80 percent.
- People over 65 are more at risk for all skin cancers due to accumulated exposure.
- Exposure to tanning beds increases the risks for all skin cancers.
- People with more than 50 moles have a higher risk for melanoma.
- People who have had melanoma have a nine-fold increased risk for developing another melanoma compared to the general public.
- From 40 to 50 percent of people with fair skin will develop at least one skin cancer in their lives.
- People with blond or red hair are more susceptible to develop all skin cancers.
What happens during a skin cancer screening?
Your screening usually starts with your dermatologist asking if you’ve noticed any spots or areas of your skin that appear unusual. Those spots are checked first. From there, your dermatologist examines your skin from head to toe, literally. He/she moves hair on your scalp, feels for changes in skin textures and elevation, and looks for other signs. They are searching for the signs of the three common skin cancers: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.
- Basal cell carcinoma will look like a flesh-colored, pearl-like bump or pinkish patch of skin.
- Squamous cell carcinoma will look like a red firm bump, scaly patch, or a sore that heals and then re-opens.
- Melanoma will appear as a new dark spot or area on the skin. It can also develop in a mole.
If you’ve had a lot of sun exposure in younger days, it’s likely your dermatologist will find at least one or two actinic keratoses on your skin. These precancerous growths will be dry, scaly patches on areas where you’ve received lots of sun exposure. These typically begin showing up after the age of 40.
Actinic keratoses are usually sprayed with liquid nitrogen. This freezes the cells. This kills the abnormal cells and the spot peels away in a few days. This is important because actinic keratoses can eventually develop into basal or squamous cell skin cancer.
If your dermatologist finds a suspicious spot or mole, he/she may decide it should be monitored. This will start with photos so they can keep up with any changes. If they think the mole could be cancerous, they’ll usually remove it with a curette, a small surgical instrument with a scoop tip that simply scoops out the tissue. The small area where the mole or spot was removed is then closed with a bandage or possibly one or two stitches. The sample/biopsy is then sent off for analysis. If it is skin cancer, you’ll get a call with the steps to remove it if the area encompasses a wider space than the removed tissue.
Your entire screening usually takes no more than 10 minutes.
See? That was easy and so reassuring. Skin cancer is not to be trifled with. Catch it early, and it’s not that big a deal to get rid of it. Wait and don’t have your skin checked, and you’re rolling the dice.
Once your skin has cleared its test, why not come see us at Romeo & Juliette and give your skin the treat of getting rid of its unwanted hair. Call us at (212) 750-2000 to schedule a consultation or a session.