Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, but it is also one of the most preventable. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, approximately 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers and 85 percent of melanoma cases are associated with exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun. As we recognize Skin Cancer Awareness Month, Utica Park Clinic’s Matt Dohlman, PA-C in dermatology, spoke with us about the importance of skin protection, cancer prevention and treatment.
“For many years, we have recognized Skin Cancer Awareness Month during May,” said Dohlman. “As kids are getting out of school and summer vacations are gearing up, we are getting more exposure to the sun. This is a great time to refresh everyone’s minds about the importance of skin cancer awareness, what it looks like and ways you can prevent it. Prevention is a major component because this is a cancer that, if caught early, can be very curable. If it’s neglected, it can become life-threatening or disfiguring. We try to catch it as early as possible so patients can have a complete cure.”
As with any cancer prevention, skin cancer screenings are important. “The first element we encourage is a yearly screening,” stated Dohlman. “If you are at a higher risk, we will see you more frequently. Whenever we do a skin check, we look at the entire skin surface from the scalp to the back, between the toes and arms and back of the legs. Primarily the more sun-exposed areas get the most skin cancers, but you can get them on any part of your body. Skin cancers can appear as a black mole or a spot on your skin that has discoloration. It can also appear as a sore that just won’t heal, like a pimple or something that persists. Skin cancers are not always painful.”
Proper protection is at the forefront of skin cancer prevention. “The easiest and most effective thing you can do is practice sun protection,” said Dohlman. “We encourage everyone, especially during the summer months, to stay in the shade between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. This is the time frame during which the ultraviolet rays are the most intense. Hats that protect the ears, sunglasses and UV protective clothing are great things to use when you are in direct sunlight. Sunscreen should definitely be applied to the areas of your body that aren’t covered like the back of your hands, face and any area that can’t be protected easily. The key is to avoid burning. A lot of skin cancers come from getting a bad burn. You get a lot more damage from a burn than just slow exposure to the sun over a long period of time.”
A few different steps are taken before a treatment plan is put into place. “We first like to make sure that it is actually skin cancer,” stated Dohlman. “If you have a new spot that looks suspicious, it might require a biopsy. A biopsy is where we take a small portion of the tissue and send it to the lab to determine if it’s skin cancer or a harmless growth. There’s an interesting procedure that is fairly new that can detect melanoma. It’s a type of biopsy that doesn’t require a needle, which means there’s no scarring or pain. Once we do the test, we send it out to a lab. This is a great option if you have a mole that is in a cosmetically sensitive area or if you are afraid of needles. This method allows us to get more information to decide if the growth needs to be removed. If it does turn out to be a skin cancer, we can remove most of them in our office if it’s caught early enough. If they are more advanced and require sedation, the procedure takes place in an operating room. In some cases, we use the Mohs surgical technique where they take out layers of skin until they have completely removed the cancer.”
Consistent follow up is a significant preventative measure. “For general follow up appointments, the recommendation is once a year for those that have not previously had a skin cancer or if it has been several years since your last one,” said Dohlman. “If you are newly diagnosed, we recommend following up at least twice a year for an all over skin check. We also highly encourage self-exams. This is where you can become familiar with your moles and look for new spots or sores that aren’t healing. In the digital age, it’s a lot easier to monitor your moles. You can take a picture and look for anything that might have popped up since your last visit.”
If you have recognized any new or unusual spots on your skin or you would like to schedule a skin cancer screening, call 918-492-8980 to make an appointment with Matt Dohlman, PA-C.