Preventing Skin Cancer
- Jennifer Newsom, wife of California Gov. Gavin Newsom, had a second sugery to remove skin cancer from her face.
- She urged younger people to wear hats and sunscreen to help prevent getting skin cancer.
- Newsom said she had carcinoma, which refers to either basal or squamous cell carcinoma, the two most common types of skin cancer.
- Our experts say people can help prevent skin cancer by avoiding the sun during peak hours, wearing hats, wearing at least SPF 30 sunscreen, having yearly skin checks from a professional, and avoiding tanning beds.
“A little reminder to young folks that we are not invincible and we should never put our health, especially preventative care, on the back burner,” Newsom recently wrote on Instagram along with a video. “Take care of yourselves and get regular checkups. And while there are so many benefits to sunshine, be sure you wear a hat and sunscreen during the strongest hours of sunlight.”
Read MoreView this post on Instagram
While Newsom said she had a good surgeon to perform the procedure, she joked, “I don’t recommend it,” when it comes to having to have skin cancer removed. She said she had a procedure called Mohs surgery to remove the cancer (more on that below).
But she looked in good spirits as she filmed the video from a car and offered some advice to help others avoid what she experienced.
While there are stories in the news that include people of all political affiliation, SurvivorNet cares about providing helpful and expert information on cancer, screening and treatment options. So we want to share Newsom’s story to help people understand their risk for skin cancer and how to help spot it.
View this post on Instagram
Types of Skin Cancer
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the U.S., and there are a few forms of skin cancer that people can develop. Newsom said she had “carcinoma” removed from her face, referring to either basal cell carcinoma (BCC) or squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), two of the most common types of skin cancer, according to the CDC.
BCC and SCC begin in the top layer of the skin, the epidermis, and are often associated with sun exposure, according to the American Cancer Society. BCC tends to be slow growing and therefore is highly treatable – though still serious. SCC can typically be completely removed, though it is more likely to spread to deeper layers of the skin and other areas of the body.
Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer and is more likely to grow and spread.
READ MORE: WWE Star Alexa Bliss, 31, Has Skin Cancer Removed From Face, Blames Tanning Beds – What to Know About the Dangerous Link
Signs of Skin Cancer
BCC tends to cause a “lump, bump, or lesion to form on the outside layer of your skin,” where there is a lot of sun exposure, according to the Cleveland Clinic. The lesion can look like a “small, sometimes shiny bump or scaly flat patch on your skin that slowly grows over time.” Because of this, they can often be overlooked as a pimple or skin tag. In patients with darker skin, about half of BCCs are pigmented (meaning brown in color).
The most common type of BCC is a nodular BCC, which looks like “a round pimple with visible blood vessels surrounding it.” Other signs of BCC include:
- A lump that is slightly see-through and close to your normal skin color
- A lump that may be itchy or painful
- A lump that may form an open sore, which can ooze clear fluid or bleed with contact
When it comes to SCC, it’s normally found on sun-exposed skin, in areas such as your scalp, the backs of your hands, your ears, or your lips. However, it can also be found in other areas of your body, like inside your mouth, under your feet, and on your genitals.
The Mayo Clinic lists possible signs and symptoms of squamous cell carcinoma of the skin as:
- A firm, red nodule
- A flat sore with a scaly crust
- A new sore or raised area on an old scar or ulcer
- A rough, scaly patch on your lip that may evolve into an open sore
- A red sore or rough patch inside your mouth
- A red, raised patch or wartlike sore on or in the anus or on your genitals
It’s important to note that BCC and SCC may look different from person to person. Because of this, if you notice new or concerning marks on your skin, you should bring it up with your doctor promptly.
Additionally, some risk factors that may increase your risk of getting skin cancer are having fair skin, blonde or red hair, freckles, spending a lot of time in the sun without using sunblock, the use of tanning beds, prior sunburns, history of precancerous skin lesions or skin cancer, a weakened immune system, or a rare genetic disorder.
READ MORE: More Cases Of Skin Cancer in People With Breast Implants: Do You Need to Get Yours Removed?
What Is Mohs Surgery?
Newsom said she had Mohs surgery to remove her carcinoma. What is this procedure?
Mohs surgery is a microscopically-controlled surgery where thin layers of tissue (typically, skin cancer tissue) are removed until the surgeon reaches clear tissue.
WATCH: What Is Mohs Surgery?
“You’re able to remove a very conservative margin around the cancer and study it in essentially real-time,” Dr. Sumaira Aasi, director of Mohs and Dermatologic Surgery at Stanford, told SurvivorNet in a previous conversation. If, when the surgeon examines the tissue under the microscope, cancer is found, the surgeon goes back and removes some more tissue.
The idea is that by making the tiniest cuts and evaluating them microscopically, the surgeon knows for certain that all the cancer is out when the last piece of tissue proves to be clear. It is often done as an outpatient procedure with local anesthetic.
“The Mohs surgeon will take a conservative cut circumferentially around the cancer where we’re able to preserve healthy tissue,” Dr. Aasi added. “We’re able to process the tissue and look at the cancerous tissue and know where there are still tumor cells persisting. Because as the Mohs surgeon removes the cancer, it’s mapped out, and we can go back specifically to the areas where we see cancer cells and take, again, another conservative margin or amount of tissue.”
Ways to Prevent Skin Cancer
While regular skin cancer screenings are key to the early detection of concerning lumps, Dr. Dendy Engelman, a board certified dermatologic surgeon at Shafer Clinic Fifth Avenue, told SurvivorNet there are some things you can do in your daily life to help reduce your risk of the cancer.
- Avoid sun during peak hours: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
- Wear a wide brimmed hat and sunglasses to protect the tops of our heads, the tops of our ears and the delicate area around the eye.
- Wear at least SPF 30 sunscreen and make sure to reapply every two hours or after excessive sweating or swimming.
- Have yearly skin checks (with a professional) because it’s difficult to evaluate areas all over the body.
- Avoid tanning beds. There are no “good” tanning beds, and they can significantly increase your risk of skin cancer.
- And remember that skin protection is equally important all year round.
Learn more about SurvivorNet's rigorous medical review process.