What Everyone Needs to Know About Skin Cancer

Today’s guest post is by Donna Bilu Martin, MD. Dr. Bilu Martin is a Board Certified Dermatologist specializing in “all things skin.” She is a member of the American Acadmey of Dermatology, the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, the Florida Society of Dermatologic Surgeons, the Women’s Dermatologic Society and the Skin Cancer Foundation.





What are the different types of skin cancer and why should you care?

In the March issue of InStyle magazine, I came upon this ad from the American Academy for Dermatologic Surgery (ASDS) featuring Jennifer Garner.  There is a photo of her with flawless skin, and underneath a caption reads “Jennifer Garner wears sunscreen every day, no matter what the weather says.”

I was so very happy to see this in a major fashion magazine.  Awareness is key to detecting and preventing skin cancers: a condition that 1 in 5 Americans will develop in their lifetime.

The most common skin cancers are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanomaMelanoma is the most serious and potentially deadly type of skin cancer.  It’s really important to realize though, that

IF melanoma is caught and treated early, it can be nearly 100% curable.

Thankfully, the majority of melanomas that I see are called melanoma in situ (stage 0).  This means that the melanoma is in the very top layer of the skin and has not penetrated deeply.  It’s removed surgically, done in the office under local anesthesia.  Even melanomas that go a little bit deeper in the skin (stage 1, 2) often have a good prognosis and are treated with surgical excision.

Melanomas that penetrate deeper require more testing (in addition to the surgical removal), such as lymph node testing and imaging.  Advanced melanomas may require chemotherapy.

Sun damage is the CAUSE, early detection is the KEY

Any new, changing, itchy, bleeding, crusting mole needs to be evaluated ASAP by a dermatologist.  Don’t wait to see your doctor.  With melanoma, the depth is the greatest predictor of survival.  The earlier we catch it, the better.

But once you’ve been diagnosed with melanoma, you’re at increased risk for developing another one.  You’ll need close monitoring by your dermatologist for the rest of your life.

While genetics definitely plays a role in the development of melanoma, what you do on a daily basis makes a difference.

Of course, sunburns are a big no no.  But…

…any tan is a sign of sun damage, which puts you at risk for melanoma.

DON’T TAN – either in the salon or outdoors.  Slather on a physical blocker, at least an SPF 30, and reapply.  Avoid the sun between 10 am – 4 pm, when the rays are strongest.  Wear a hat, sunglasses, and sun protective clothing.  Stay in the shade.  And teach your kids to do the same.

A big thumbs up to Ms. Garner for raising awareness.  I’ll raise my sunscreen to that!
Dr. Bilu Martin completed her undergraduate studies at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa with honors. She received her medical degree at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where she was awarded a Dean’s Research Fellowship. She performed her residency in Dermatology at the University of Maryland Medical System in Baltimore. Dr. Bilu Martin has authored a published chapter in an immunology textbook and has co-authored numerous articles that have been published in a variety of medical and dermatologic journals. She is the editor of the Make the Diagnosis column for Skin & Allergy News online. Dr. Bilu Martin is a volunteer instructor of Dermatology at the University of Miami School of Medicine.

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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