Getting Serious About Skin Cancer

Answering questions, dispelling fears and addressing myths around skin cancer

When many patients think about dermatology, the first thoughts may be about glowing skin and the topical and cosmetic treatments to brighten, tighten and rejuvenate. But for others, dermatology is synonymous with skin-saving, and sometimes lifesaving, skill and care. While both areas of dermatology are critical to a well-rounded and multi-faceted practice, the latter is what we will discuss today.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, with one in five getting skin cancer during their lifetime. With statistics like this, it is critically important to understand and follow a routine for prevention and screening to ensure prompt care and treatment.

As Florida residents, we need to be careful when exposed to the sun’s rays as we enjoy our incredible weather, year round. Florida has the second-highest number of melanoma diagnoses after California, a state with almost double our population of ours. That being said, Florida ranks in the middle of the pack when it comes to skin cancer rates behind some of the most unlikely of states like Utah, Idaho, and even Maine. While these stats seem concerning, we want you to know the bright side of skin cancer detection and treatment stats:

The overall, five-year average survival rate for all melanoma patients in the US is about 94%. Melanomas caught and treated early have a 99% average five-year survival. Melanomas that have spread to lymph nodes have a 71% survival while those that metastasize to distant organs have a survival rate of 32%. 82% of melanomas are localized and, therefore, highly survivable.1 This makes it clear that, as with most cancers, early identification and treatment are critical.

Myth 1: I Have Dark Skin, So I Cannot Get Skin Cancer

While it is true that most skin cancers occur in those with lighter skin, who are more prone to burning, patients with darker skin have a higher incidence of death due to skin cancer. This often happens because of the misconception they, and some medical professionals, have that a darker skin tone won’t lead to skin cancer.

Myth 2: I am Too Young to Get Skin Cancer

Most melanomas are caused by exposure to the sun, and we probably spent a great deal of time outside as youngsters. Plus, there is a genetic component to melanoma. These factors combine to make melanoma the most diagnosed cancer among adults aged 25 to 29. While we still diagnose more melanomas in patients as they age, it is not uncommon to see cases in patients in their 20s and 30s.

Myth 3: Cloudy Days = No Skin Cancer

Just because the sun isn’t beating down on us and we aren’t sweating in the sweltering heat doesn’t mean our skin isn’t getting UV rays. While clouds have some UV-blocking properties (which vary based on density), UVA rays can still get through them and cause a burn. This is also the case in the water. You can easily check the UV index on your favorite weather website or app. Remember that even if the UV index is low, continued exposure can cause a burn.

Myth 4: I Shouldn’t Go Outside if I Burn Easily

Quite the opposite. Going outside is fantastic for your mental and physical health. In fact, research has shown that the wellness benefits received from exercising outdoors can be far more significant than the same activity performed indoors. Instead, if you have very light skin or burn easily, be more aware of your sunscreen application habits. You don’t necessarily need to use SPF 50 or even 100. A good SPF 30 applied regularly, especially if you are performing activities that cause you to sweat or if you are swimming, is your best bet. And, if you’re worried about getting enough vitamin D, it’s important to note that sunscreens are not 100% effective against UV rays, so even with sunscreen on, your skin will be absorbing some of this essential vitamin. You can also get additional vitamin D from fortified foods like dairy, or with your doctor’s advice, start supplementing with Vitamin D3, which can correct the concern quickly.

Myth 5: Skin Cancer Itches

When you see pictures of skin cancer, you may think that the lesion, mole, or spot must itch. After all, it can often look unusual and scaly. However, most skin cancers do not itch until they have progressed significantly. Further, melanomas seldom itch. If a spot on the skin has become itchy and turns out to be malignant, it is most likely a squamous cell carcinoma or, infrequently, a basal cell carcinoma.

What Does a Skin Cancer Check Look Like?

Getting screened for skin cancer is a great idea and nothing to be afraid of. The entire process takes less than half an hour, during which time Dr. Hall will check you from head to toe – literally your scalp to between your toes, as skin cancer can occur anywhere on the body. Spots or moles may be documented by taking a photo to compare it to future screenings and see if it has grown or changed shape or color. If there is a concerning mark, a topical anesthetic will be applied, and a biopsy will be taken to send to pathology for a report on possible malignancy.

Self skin cancer checks should also be a fundamental part of your lifestyle routine. We encourage all our patients to check their bodies for potential signs of skin cancer routinely, and they should employ a partner or friend to check areas that aren’t readily visible in the mirror. Things to look out for include the ABCDEs of skin cancer.

Asymmetry: one side doesn’t match the other

Borders: The edges are ragged, blurred, or otherwise uneven

Color: Look out for darker spots or uneven pigmentation

Diameter: Is the spot larger than a ¼ inch

Evolution: The spot is changing in shape, size, or color

Let’s Talk About a Skin Cancer Diagnosis

Skin cancers can manifest in various ways. From freckles, spots, scars, moles, and bumps to the generalized symptoms a patient may be experiencing, these clues are interpreted by a dermatologic surgeon like Dr. Hall to make the most accurate diagnosis and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

Fortunately, most skin cancers diagnosed are basal cell carcinomas, slow-growing malignancies that rarely metastasize. Squamous cell carcinomas are also very common and can be somewhat more aggressive. These malignancies are readily treatable and usually pose little cause for concern unless they have been left to spread past the superficial layers of the skin.

Choosing Dr. Hall as Your Dermatologist

Ideally, your dermatologist is board certified and a participating member of the leading societies in their field. These designations mean more than just hours of education and training. It usually means that your dermatologist has exposure to the latest research and is adept at identifying and treating skin concerns that may be less obvious to an untrained eye. This experience, along with specialized equipment like a dermatoscope, a powerful magnifying lens with a concentrated light source, allows your dermatologist to see the pigmentation and borders of moles and spots more accurately, thus allowing for appropriate care.

Dr. Hall is trained in general dermatology, cosmetic dermatology, and surgical treatments, including:

  • Skin Cancer Biopsy & Removal
  • Scar surgery
  • Cosmetic Removals
  • Cyst and Lipoma Removal
  • And more

She has 15 years of experience in dermatology and recently moved back to Tampa to join Florida Medical Clinic, near where she was raised in Sarasota. Dr. Hall prioritizes patient care, understanding how important it is to be available for her patients in need. She makes herself available for same-day appointments as often as possible.



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