Learning about Skin Cancer
- Everett Milloy, 21, recently underwent surgery for a type of skin cancer called basal cell carcinoma. He was an avid swimmer from age 6 to 18, and he thinks his time swimming backstroke, with his face to the sun and with little skin protection, likely led to his disease.
- Now a photography student in college, he decided to document his skin cancer journey before and after his surgery.
- The Skin Cancer Foundation estimates that over 5 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the United States every year, making it the most common cancer in the United States.
- 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.
Milloy, now a senior at Arizona State University where he is studying photography, began investing time into swimming at age 6 and was a competitive swimmer until he was 18. He spent three to four hours a day, five days a week training in the sun towards the latter part of his swimming career. An avid backstroker, he spent most of his time with his face to the sun.Read More
For treatment, he underwent an operation called Mohs surgery. Mohs surgery is a microscopically-controlled surgery where thin layers of skin cancer tissue are removed until the surgeon reaches clear tissue in order to hopefully ensure that all the cancer is removed.
“You’re able to remove a very conservative margin around the cancer and study it in essentially real-time,” Dr. Sumaira Aasi, a Professor of Dermatology and Director of Mohs and Dermatologic Surgery at Stanford, previously told SurvivorNet. “And we continue to repeat the process until the cancer is out.”
But before and after the operation, Milloy made sure to document his skin cancer journey with self portraits.
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“I just felt it was important to document this part of my young adulthood going through this stage,” he said. “Anytime that you make art about a life-altering experience, you’re inevitably helping yourself work through that.
“If you’re ever being challenged with anything, I think art is one of the most innate human responses to hardship.”
Understanding Skin Cancer
The Skin Cancer Foundation estimates that over 5 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the United States every year, making it the most common cancer in the United States.
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.
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.
And though the upcoming summer months may require extra skin protection, it’s important to remember that you are, in fact, at risk of developing skin cancer all year round.
“My patients ask me all the time, ‘Do I really need sunscreen every day, all year round?’ The answer is yes,” Dr. Engelman previously 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.”
What Is 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.
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.
The tricky thing, however, is that BCC can often be overlooked as a pimple or skin tag. They may appear as raised areas on the skin with pale, pink or red-ish colors, and they may also have abnormal blood vessels. 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.
Generally speaking, BCC occurs when DNA damage from exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or indoor tanning triggers changes in basal cells. Because it most often develops on areas of the skin that are exposed to sun, it’s crucial to protect yourself from the sun in any way that you can.
No matter how vigilant you are about decreasing your risk for skin cancer, its important to still prioritize routine checkups with your dermatologist and always be on the lookout for any skin changes in between visits.