August 19, 2018

Early Detection Key to Fighting Skin Cancer

Skin Cancer

Summer is the time to be most aware of Skin Cancer, and MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital in Leonardtown is reminding residents of the importance of caring for your skin.

Skin cancer is tough, though, because it doesn’t always look like trouble.

Most people know they should seek a medical opinion when they see a suspicious mole, some other patches on their skin may not seem questionable at all. That’s why regular checks of our skin — by self-exams, plus appointments with a family physician or dermatologist — are so important. Basal cell carcinoma, the most frequently diagnosed type of skin cancer, often looks like a flesh-colored, pearl-like bump, or raised reddish patch that may just be itchy. They can also look like flat, firm, pale, or yellow areas, like a scar, or pink growths with raised edges. These can develop anywhere on your body after years of exposure to the sun or indoor tanning.

Suspicious spots can look like dry, rough, scaly patches or spots that may be flesh-colored or pink-red. Known as actinic keratoses, these spots often appear on areas prone to frequent sun exposure: the neck, head, hands, and forearms, according to the American Cancer Society. People with one actinic keratosis often develop more over time. The spots could continue to look the same, clear up on their own, or develop into squamous cell carcinoma, so talking to a professional is important.

Red firm bumps, scaly patches, wart-like growths, sores that heal but then come back — could all indicate squamous cell carcinoma. The rims of the ears, back, neck, arms, face, and chest are often affected by these growths, which can develop deep in the skin and spread to other sites in the body.

Melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, often starts in a mole or suddenly shows up as a new dark spot on the skin. “Most people have moles, and almost all moles are harmless,” states the American Cancer Society. “But it’s important to notice changes in a mole — such as its size, shape, or color — because that may be a sign that melanoma is developing.”

“Regardless of your skin suspicions, catching them early is very important,” said Temeria Wilcox, CRNP, a board-certified family nurse practitioner at MedStar Health Primary Care at East Run Center in Lexington Park. “Because basal cell carcinoma, in particular, can invade the surrounding tissue and grow into the nerves and bones, preventing permanent damage starts with doing regular skin checks, keeping appointments for routine physicals, and seeing a doctor right away with any skin concerns.”

When doing a self-exam, note your standard birthmarks, moles, and other blemishes, and have a partner help inspect hard-to-reach areas like your back and neck. Regular exams are especially important for those at a higher risk of skin cancer: people with reduced immunity; those who have had skin cancer before; and people with a strong family history of the disease.

“Be aware of your normal pattern of moles, freckles, and blemishes,” Ms. Wilcox advised. “Checking your own skin frequently can help find many skin cancers early, when they are easier to treat. Your doctor can work with you as a part of your routine physical and overall wellness.”

Visit MedStarStMarys.org/SkinCheck to learn more about skin health.

For more information and one-click access to a full list of resources available at MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital, visit its Leader Page.

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