Skin Cancer Prevention
It’s that time of year again! While the sun’s warmth does feel wonderful and gives us that glorious summer suntan, it does more harm than good! The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays cause damage to our DNA, the genetic material of your cells, which can cause the skin cells to grow out of control, and, thus, lead to cancer.
Many people think skin cancer is a disease of the elderly; however, a recent study has suggested that five or more blistering sunburns between the ages of 15 and 20 have an 80 percent increased risk for melanoma – one of the most deadly forms of skin cancer! They also have a 68 percent chance of getting basal cell and squamous cell cancer.
Ultimately, this study shows that it is the exposure in both early life as well as adulthood that increase your chances of skin cancer.
As a physician and a mother, I want to emphasize the importance of protecting your children’s delicate skin, as well as your own! Taking a few minutes before going to play at the park could be protecting them from cancer later on in life!.
Other sun safety tips from the Centers for Disease Control include:
• Avoiding sunlight during midday hours,
• Covering up with clothes and hats,
• Sunscreen with broad spectrum (UVA and UVB) protection and SPF 30 or preferably higher,
• Reapply sunscreen every two hours.
Another recent study by the CDC found that nearly five million adults in the United States are treated for skin cancer every year. As a facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon, I can attest to the fact that many of these are happening in the sportsman’s paradise of Louisiana!
Additionally, I would like to raise awareness of certain areas of the body that are frequently skipped while we are slathering on sunscreen. I work closely with many dermatologists in our area and frequently see patients whose cancer will require very delicate and complex reconstruction. These areas include the ears, scalp, nose, lips and eyelids. Each of these areas requires an expertise in reconstruction that should only be trusted to a board-certified reconstructive surgeon. The scalp, ears and lips are extremely important to protect as they have a very high chance of metastatic spread.
Often, if skin cancers are caught early enough, there is a very high probability it can be cured; however, these areas are at higher risk of the cancer spreading to other areas of the body. I also find the nose is often overlooked. Its prominence makes it more prone to burning, thus at very high risk for cancer. Not to mention, being the central focal point of the face, even a small cancer can lead to devastating deformities. So slather on that sunscreen and get any bumps or irregularities checked!
Everyone should practice monthly head-to-toe self-examination of the skin so that they can find any new or changing cancerous and precancerous lesions. An annual full-body skin check with a dermatologist is also a good way to catch lesions early when they are most curable. There is no specific age that one should start annual exams with a physician, but the earlier you can start preventative measures, the better!
Skin cancers found and removed early are almost always curable. Skin cancer can present in many shapes, sizes and colors. You should seek an examination and biopsy for any spots that are changing, itching or bleeding. They can be raised, ulcerated, colored or even pale in color compared to the rest of your skin.
Dr. Paige Bundrick is the director of the Department of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and an assistant professor of facial plastic surgery at LSUHSC. She currently sees patients in south Shreveport in Ashley Ridge, Willis-Knighton South, Feist-Weiller Cancer Center and University Health. Please call 318-675-6262 for appointments.