Learning about Skin Cancer
- Elizabeth Williams, 60, struggled with lesions on her nose, scabbing and bleeding for two and a half years before finally realizing she had a type of skin cancer called basal cell carcinoma on her left nostril. Now, she wants others to be vigilant about their health and skin cancer symptoms.
- BCC is the most common form of skin cancer. In the United States alone, an estimated 3.6 million cases are diagnosed each year. It is important to treat them and treat them early because BCC lesions can grow and become disfiguring and dangerous.
- BCC tends to grow more slowly, and BCC can often be overlooked as a pimple or skin tag. They can look like open sores, red patches, pink growths, shiny bumps, scars or growths with slightly elevated, rolled edges and/or a central indentation. These spots may ooze, crust, itch or bleed.
- We can get sun damage at any time throughout the year, even in the cold, wintry months. Our experts recommend skin protection all year round. One of our experts recommends wearing zinc oxide paste on your nose for those ski days on the mountain.
Elizabeth Williams is a 60-year-old mother of two who first started struggling with lesions on her nose, as well as scabbing and bleeding in 2017. When she went to the doctor, she was simply prescribed a cream to use for four weeks.Read More
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For treatment, Williams underwent surgery and radiotherapy as well as reconstructive surgery.
“I’ve been left with facial scarring due to the surgery, and also had to have part of my nose reconstructed which was really distressing to go through,” she explained.
Now cancer-free, Williams is sharing her story in the hopes that others will know when to speak up about seemingly harmless changes to their skin.
”I know nothing will change what’s happened, but I want to make others aware of what to look out for when it comes to skin cancer,” she said.
Learning about a Type of Skin Cancer Called Basal Cell Carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer and develops when basal cells, one of three main types of cells in the top layer of the skin, grow abnormally or uncontrollably. In the United States alone, an estimated 3.6 million cases are diagnosed each year.
One distinguishing factor of this type of skin cancer is that it tends to grow more slowly resulting in minimal damage and making it generally curable when caught and treated early. Still, BCC lesions can grow and become disfiguring and dangerous.
“Untreated BCCs can become locally invasive, grow wide and deep into the skin and destroy skin, tissue and bone,” the Skin Cancer Foundation website says. “The longer you wait to get treatment, the more likely it is that the BCC will recur, sometimes repeatedly.
“There are some highly unusual, aggressive cases when BCC spreads to other parts of the body. In even rarer instances, this type of BCC can become life-threatening.”
Mohs Surgery Removes Skin Cancer With Smaller Incisions and More Certainty
So, although BCCs rarely spread beyond the original tumor site, it is crucial to treat them and treat them early. The tricky thing, however, is that BCC can often be overlooked as a pimple or skin tag. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, they can look like open sores, red patches, pink growths, shiny bumps, scars or growths with slightly elevated, rolled edges and/or a central indentation. These spots may ooze, crust, itch or bleed. In patients with darker skin, about half of BCCs are pigmented (meaning brown in color).
No matter what, if you have a spot on your skin that seems abnormal or questionable, you should consult your doctor because BCC can look very different from person to person. In addition, you should prioritize routine checkups with your dermatologist and always be on the lookout for any skin changes in between visits.
Five Ways to Try to Avoid Skin Cancer
Skin cancers more commonly occur on parts of the body that tend to get more sun like the face, head, neck and arms, but they can develop anywhere on the body – including places like the bottoms of your feet, your genitals and inside your mouth.
Top 5 Ways to Protect Your Skin From Skin Cancer
Dr. Dendy Engelman, a board certified dermatologic surgeon at Shafer Clinic Fifth Avenue, previously spoke with SurvivorNet about how to best reduce your risk of developing skin cancer. Here are her top five ways to try to avoid the disease:
- 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.
Skin Protection Needed Year Round
Dr. Dendy Engelman says it’s a common misconception that the need for sun protection is seasonal.
“My patients ask me all the time, ‘Do I really need sunscreen every day, all year round?’ The answer is yes,” Dr. Engelman told SurvivorNet. “People think they only need sun protection when they’re in the bright, warm sunshine. But the reality is, we can get sun damage at any time throughout the year, even in the cold, wintry months. Think about when you go skiing. That’s a very high risk. Even though it’s cold, our skin should be protected.”
Choose the Right Sunscreen and Use It Often
So, don’t forget your sunscreen when you hit the slopes! And if you’re still unconvinced of the effects of unprotected sun exposure in the winter, try to think more big picture.
“The reality is, the sun can damage us even in incidental exposure,” Dr. Engelman said. “If we’re unprotected, for even 15 minutes a day, if we think about the cumulative effects that has on our skin over a lifetime, it’s very real… The more we [wear sunscreen], the more we’re protected. The more our risk is limited.”
To make sure you keep up with skin protection throughout the winter, Dr. Engelman recommends making a habit out of it.
“I just tell patients, ‘Make it part of your daily routine. Just like you brush your teeth, you should be reaching for sunscreen every day,’” she said.
But sun protection is only really effective if you’re doing it wisely. Dermatologist Dr. Snehal Amin, the co-founder and surgical director of MDCS Dermatology: Medical Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery, says finding the right skin protection depends on the activities you’ll be doing.
“If you want to engage in outdoor activities, which is great for your health and is really a lot of fun, it’s important to make sure you don’t also get a sunburn,” he said. “Now if you’re like me, and you like to surf, or wind surf, or ski or anything like that, most of those activities can’t be done in 20 minutes, so you have to wear the right protection for those activities.
“When I go skiing, always make sure you’ve got the zinc oxide paste on your nose. When I go surfing, always make sure you have the long-sleeved surf shirt, because really you can’t apply that much sunscreen over and over again to your body.”
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