Pop quiz: What is the most common form of cancer in the United States? If you guessed skin cancer, you are correct. With over 5.4 million cases diagnosed each year, the numbers paint a grim picture. But despite these startling statistics, did you know that skin cancer is also the most treatable and the most preventable form of cancer, too? It’s true! So why such high numbers? The key is awareness.
The No. 1 way to avoid skin cancer is obviously prevention, but how can you prevent skin cancer when you don’t know how or when? One of the most common misconceptions about skin cancer – specifically about melanoma, the skin cancer caused by sun exposure – is that you are only vulnerable to it if you get a sunburn or if you are outside during the summer. This is not true. Melanoma can form on skin that has not burned, and it can develop from sun exposure experienced any time throughout the year, even in the fall and winter. Furthermore, it doesn’t just develop on moles or as moles – it can also appear as a rough, red, scaly patch on the skin.
So, what can you do to prevent skin cancer if staying indoors with the curtains drawn during the day isn’t an option? Well, for starters, you should be wearing a minimum SPF 15 sunscreen on all exposed skin, year-round. Look for a broad-spectrum product that blocks both UVA and UVB rays. Dr. Chau is a big fan of the Zo Skin Health product line. The Zo line has its own Oclipse line of sunscreen products that are perfect for everyday use and coordinate well with the rest of the Zo Skin Health product line. Best of all, the line was developed by a dermatologist and is only available through medical professionals.
So, just to be clear, when we say “all exposed skin,” we mean hands, feet, face, ears, legs, lips, arms – any skin that isn’t covered in clothing should be covered in sunblock before you go outdoors. If you’re outdoors for an extended period, use your sunblock as directed and be sure to reapply it as instructed.
Another crucial factor in surviving skin cancer is detection. Early detection is key to surviving any cancer, but with skin cancer the sooner you notice it, the better your odds of both survival and minimizing permanent scarring and damage. That’s because often when doctors treat melanoma, we must remove a portion of the damaged skin. If it’s a small section or mole, it may not be noticeable. If it’s from your back or arm, it may be noticeable, but you may not mind. But what happens when a significant section of skin must be removed from your face? Suddenly those permanent scars become a lot more problematic. The good news is that cancers in the facial area are the most easily discovered and hopefully diagnosed because they’re hard to miss when you look in the mirror every day. Better still, many scars can be greatly improved with plastic surgery and other cosmetic treatments.
Unfortunately it can often be difficult to detect skin cancer elsewhere on the body, especially on the back and areas you cannot easily see.
If you have a spouse or significant other, teach him or her to help you do a screening. Teach your partner what to look for, and have them check your back, the backs of your arms, legs and ears, as well as your scalp. They can even help with any spots on the front of your body you can’t see easily with a mirror. To thank them, you can do the same exam for them. If you notice anything abnormal on either of you, make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible. Conduct these screenings every month or so, and if you identify any new moles or worrisome-looking spots, monitor them closely for any changes and notify your doctor immediately if the area expands or changes color.
Finally, don’t just think about skin cancer awareness during the month of May. Make protecting your skin a priority all year, and make sure you never leave the house without sunblock. Don’t forget to protect your eyes with UVA/UVB-blocking sunglasses, and protect the tops of your ears, nose and lips. A wide-brimmed hat can help shield your face from the sun, as can an SPF lip balm. Many people don’t realize that skin cancer can develop on the lips and spread inside the mouth, causing oral cancer that can cause the loss of teeth, gum tissue and even bone. Plus, keeping your skin safe from sun damage keeps it looking younger, longer – and who wouldn’t want that?
To learn more about the Zo Skin Health line or to schedule an appointment to discuss your skin care options with Dr. Chau, please call 888-966-9471.