According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. In 2007 alone, over 58,000 people were diagnosed with melanomas of the skin, with 8,000 people dying from melanomas of the skin.
According to Dr. Steven Rotter, a Vienna, Virginia board certified Dermatologist, “as the summer season approaches, people are beginning to get the ‘itch’ to head into the sun,” especially after such a long winter season. Dr. Rotter’s Skin Cancer Outpatient Surgical Hospital became the first Virginia state licensed hospital dedicated to the treatment of skin cancer. Dr. Rotter says three key actions can help make sun exposure safer: prevent, detect and treat skin cancer as early as possible. Education is key, as well as acceptance – many patients avoid having their skin screened or treated due to fear or embarrassment – Dr. Rotter notes that getting over any personal issues associated with sun exposure will help keep your skin healthy for your entire life.
Everything You Need to Know About Sun Protection
With virtually hundreds of sun protection options available at your local drugstore or department store, Dr. Rotter notes there are several important ingredients one should look for when seeking full spectrum coverage and protection:
• Micronized Zinc Oxide: For broad spectrum UV protection (including UVA rays). This also has soothing effects for skin irritations, and antimicrobial properties
• Titanium Dioxide: An excellent absorber of sun rays (both UVA and UVAB rays), it provides long-term UV-protection and is water resistant
• Niacin: This ingredient is clinically shown to visibly improve skin tone, texture and hyperpigmentation
• Vitamin E: Helps heal and protect the skin
Dr. Rotter also would like to educate the consumer regarding some chemicals found in over the counter sunscreens; which ingredients would be best for your skin and what to watch out for; and what to look for, for the best sun protection.
Know Your SPF: Dr. Rotter says it is important to use at least SPF 30 regardless of your skin type or color. According to Dr. Rotter, “sunscreens should be applied to exposed areas 15 to 30 minutes before going outdoors.” When using sunscreen, Dr. Rotter also notes to pay special attention to your face, ears, hands and arms, which are sometimes forgotten or not properly covered. One ounce, about the amount in a shot glass, is considered the amount needed to cover the body properly – don’t skimp on your sunscreen! Dr. Rotter adds that it is also a known fact that any SPF over 30 is negligible in protection.
Your Daily Dose of Vitamin D: Many people tout the sun’s ability to help our body absorb vitamin D. According to Dr. Rotter, “it is important to get 20 minutes of direct sun per day, which will allow our bodies to absorb the normal level of vitamin D needed.” You should be careful to avoid the sun during the hours of 10am – 3pm, when the sun is strongest.
Detecting Skin Cancer
Dr. Rotter recommends people have a thorough skin exam every year to detect and prevent the three major types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and malignant melanoma. According to Dr. Rotter, “you can also look at your own skin spots regularly and be very attentive to any changes or growth. A melanoma can be effectively treated if detected early.” Some melanomas can occur in areas that are covered by hair or clothing, making them difficult to self-examine.
The ABCD’s of Moles & Melanoma
Most people have some skin marks, such as freckles, moles, birthmarks. Some of these marks may be the signs of skin cancer. Warning signs of melanoma include:
• Asymmetry: Melanomas are usually characterized by an irregular and asymmetrical shape. This means that one half of the spot does not match the other half.
• Border: The edges of the old mole may turn scalloped or rough. New skin spots with undefined borders may also appear.
• Color: Existing or new fast growing moles with uneven coloring (various shades of brown or black, colorless areas) are the first signs of skin cancer. These spots may later become red, blue or white.
• Diameter: Early melanoma spots usually are greater than 6mm in diameter.
How Does a Mole Change?
Dr. Rotter notes that you should also watch for possible changes in moles:
• You may notice that new spots or existing skin moles may start to grow fast.
• Melanomas come in a wide variety of colors. An early sign of skin cancer is the color distribution; color spreads from the borders of the mole into the surrounding skin area.
• Moles that are usually flat begin to grow vertically.
• Inflammation may occur on the surrounding skin area of a new, pigmented skin formation.
• Melanoma formation is characterized by the change in the surface of a mole including an erosion, oozing, scaliness, and even bleeding.
• The most common sign of skin cancer is an itching sensation in the infected areas. Skin cancers are usually painless, but some people with melanomas may rarely experience little pain and tenderness.
Malignant Melanoma is the number one cause of death from cancer in women in their 20’s to 30’s.
Skin Cancer Treatment
Dr. Rotter is Dr. Rotter utilizes a high precision microscope to examine tissue and assist in the complete removal of the cancer. With the precision of this technique, it is possible to removal all cancer cells with minimal damage to the surrounding healthy skin. Mohs micrographic surgery is typically performed under local anesthesia in Dr. Rotter’s office and the recovery process is minute compared to most surgeries.
Benefits of Mohs Micrographic Surgery
• Up to a 99% cure rate
• The lowest chance of tumor re-growth (compared to other methods of skin cancer treatment)
• Low potential for scarring or disfigurement
• Most accurate method of tumor removal