Applying Enough of the Right Sunscreen Can Reduce Your Skin Cancer Risk
- A beloved and brave Michigan news anchor shares her skin cancer journey to remind people of the importance of not just using sunscreen but reapplying it every couple of hours. She believes she developed basal cell carcinoma because she didn’t reapply sunblock for the duration of her time outdoors.
- Basal cell carcinoma is a common and highly treatable form of skin cancer because it grows slowly and rarely spreads to other parts of the body. Conversely, unprotected sun exposure can also cause melanoma, a more dangerous form of skin cancer that can spread to other parts of the body.
- Dermatologist Dr. Cecilia Larocca recommends people use sunscreen with no less than SPF 30, which protects against UVB and UVA rays. Also, applying it every two hours helps ensure adequate protection over time.
- Mohs surgery is a microscopically controlled surgery used to treat some skin cancers. Surgeons carry out the procedure by removing thin layers of skin cancer tissue until clear tissue is reached.
A Michigan news anchor cautions that applying sunblock once isn’t enough to ward off skin cancer; you must reapply it as you spend more time in the sun. This is a lesson Karen Drew, 53, learned the hard way after finding herself on the receiving end of a skin cancer diagnosis.
As a journalist, Drew says she’s done numerous stories about skin cancer and how to recognize the signs of it. With this knowledge in mind, when she noticed what first appeared as a blemish on her cheek, it caught her attention.Read More
“He confirmed what I thought: skin cancer. Thank goodness it was basal cell and not melanoma!” Drew said.
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is a common form of skin cancer impacting areas of skin exposed to harmful rays. Since this form of cancer is slow-growing, it is highly treatable and rarely undergoes metastasis or spread to other parts of the body, according to research published in StatPearls.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, “BCCs can look like open sores, red patches, pink growths, shiny bumps, scars or growths with slightly elevated, rolled edges and/or a central indentation. At times, BCCs may ooze, crust, itch, or bleed. The lesions commonly arise in sun-exposed areas of the body.”
Drew says she knows all too well the dangers of skin cancer because her father passed away from melanoma at 62 years old. Unlike basal cell carcinoma, melanoma can undergo metastasis and spread to other organs, making it a more dangerous form of skin cancer. It starts in the same cells that give your skin, hair, and eyes their color.
Drew says although she always applied sunblock, she admitted she didn’t always keep it lathered sufficiently on her skin over time.
“I will say I do put sunblock on my face all the time and wear a hat and sunglasses…but I did not do a good enough job reapplying the sunblock, and I know I could have done better avoiding the sun,” Drew said.
After her diagnosis, Drew underwent Mohs surgery to treat her cancer.
WATCH: Understanding how Mohs Surgery works for some skin cancers.
Mohs surgery is a microscopically controlled surgery where thin layers of skin cancer tissue are removed until the surgeon reaches clear tissue. Surgery is one of the primary treatment options for basal cell carcinoma (BCC), a common type of skin cancer.
“They had to go in twice to get it all, but thank goodness the cancer has been removed. I’m sharing this story as a reminder to do better…at using sunblock, better at reapplying, and better at avoiding too much sun exposure,” Drew said.
Drew’s message of awareness has resonated with many of her local viewers. Facebook user Deanna Walter wrote in a post she had melanoma removed from her thigh. She’s since discovered other unusual spots on her face that have prompted her to see her doctor.
“Thank you for pushing the importance of sunscreen and continuing to check your skin,” Walter wrote.
With her cancer journey behind her, Drew said in a Facebook post, “It’s great to be back” doing what she loves.
Helping Patients Understand Skin Cancer and Prevention
- 3 Skin Cancer Myths, Busted: Can One Bad Sun Burn Cause Cancer?
- A 17% Decreased Risk of Skin Cancer Just By Eating More Cantaloupes, Carrots, and Sweet Potatoes
- Can I Get Skin Cancer On My Genitals Even Though They’ve NEVER Seen The Sun?
- Do The UV Lamps At Nail Salons Increase Risk Of Skin Cancer?
- Signs of Skin Cancer Can Show Up On Your Nails, But Don’t Jump to Conclusions Just Yet
The Value of Sunscreen
Wearing sunscreen helps protect your skin from harmful rays from the sun that can cause skin cancer. Apply a generous amount of broad-spectrum sunscreen every two hours and wear sun-protective clothing when possible, including hats and sunglasses.
“When it comes to melanoma, if you use sunscreen, there is this great study that came out of Australia that if patients used sunscreen consistently over a period of 10 years, they were actually able to reduce their risk for melanoma by 50%,” dermatologist Dr. Cecilia Larocca tells SurvivorNet.
Many types of sunscreens are on the market, and choosing the right one could perplex some people. However, experts tell SurvivorNet that your outdoor activity could guide your sunscreen choice.
WATCH: Choosing the right sunscreen.
Dr. Snehal Amin, a dermatologist in Manhattan, further explains this point.
Looking for a great sunscreen for the kids? “When I’m using sunscreens on my younger kids, I recommend Neutrogena free and clear stick — which is zinc and titanium-based,” Dr. Amin said.
Do you an outdoor or water sport? “I make sure that I use a sports-based sunscreen. There’s a lot of sports-based sunscreens … They all are very greasy, and they stay on the skin even during water activities,” Dr. Amin said. He recommended the brand SkinCeuticals.
How else can I protect my skin? Sunscreen isn’t the only option when it comes to protecting your skin from the sun — you can also wear SPF-proof clothing. “Rather than slathering a gallon of sunscreen onto your skin and then going for a dip … it probably makes sense to wear a surf shirt which is long-sleeved, as well as certain other types of sunscreens, which are more inert to protect the environment.”
Dr. Larocca recommends using sunscreen with no less than SPF 30, which protects against UVB and UVA rays.
According to the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, you should:
- Avoid sun exposure during peak hours when the sun’s rays are strongest, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Apply sunscreen 15 minutes before going outside.
- Use at least SPF 30 broad spectrum sunblock and reapply every 2 hours when outdoors.
Understanding the Procedure Drew Underwent
Diagnosis: Before surgery, a dermatologist will confirm your diagnosis. This is typically done through a skin biopsy, where a small sample of the affected area is removed and examined under a microscope to confirm the presence of cancerous cells.
Pre-operative evaluation: Once the diagnosis is confirmed, the patient’s overall health and the specific characteristics of the BCC, such as its size, location, and depth, are evaluated to determine the most appropriate surgical approach.
You can remove a very conservative margin around the cancer and study it in real-time, explains Dr. Sumaira Aasi, Professor of Dermatology and Director of Mohs and Dermatologic Surgery at Stanford. 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.
Reconstruction: Depending on the size and location of the surgical site, reconstructive surgery may be necessary to optimize cosmetic outcomes and restore the function of the treated area. This could involve sutures, skin grafts, or other techniques.
Post-operative care: After the surgery, patients are typically given instructions for wound care, which may include keeping the area clean, changing dressings, and avoiding sun exposure to prevent further damage to the skin.
Follow-up: Regular follow-up appointments are essential to monitor the surgical site for any signs of recurrence and to address any concerns or complications.
Questions for Your Doctor
If you have been diagnosed with melanoma or some other type of skin cancer, here are some questions you may consider asking your doctor to help understand your situation:
- Has my skin cancer spread to other parts of the body, or is it localized?
- What are my treatment options?
- Will there be side effects associated with my treatment?
- What types of financial and emotional support will be available to me as I begin my cancer journey?
- How long do you expect my treatments to last?
- Will I be able to work and continue my daily activities during treatment?