When was the last time you had a full body skin exam performed by a dermatologist? If the answer is never (which seems to be all too common!), we want to teach you more about the importance of skin checks and answer some common questions around the subject.
Prevention and early detection of skin cancer is our number one priority at Vérité! From how often to get your skin evaluated to tips for at-home monitoring, keep reading to learn more.
And forward this Journal along to friends and family, because education and awareness is essential to saving lives.
What is skin cancer?
Skin cancer is much more common than you may think. In fact, it is one of the most common cancers in the United States as well as one of the most common cancers diagnosed in young people (under age 30). There are three main types of skin cancers:
- Melanoma – The most serious type of skin cancer which forms in cells known as melanocytes. If melanoma goes untreated at an early stage, it can rapidly spread to other organs in the body.
- Basal cell carcinoma – The most common type of skin cancer and one of the most common cancers in the world. Basal cell carcinoma is largely caused by overexposure to the sun. While distant spread of basal cell carcinoma is uncommon, neglected lesions can grow deeper and wider making removal much more involved and scarring significant.
- Squamous cell carcinoma – The second most common type of skin cancer, characterized by rapid, uncontrolled growth of squamous cells. Like other skin cancers, squamous cell carcinoma must be treated early in order to prevent local invasion or distant spread throughout the body. Squamous cell carcinoma involving the scalp, ear and lip can be more aggressive, making early detection paramount.
Early detection is key
So how often should you have your skin evaluated by a dermatologist?
Dr. Kademian recommends that individuals have their first skin evaluation around age 18-20. Seeing a dermatologist at this age is extremely important—doctors can take note of family history and past risk factors in addition to educating young people about skin cancer prevention. The earlier you learn, the better! If you’re passed this age group and have yet to see a derm for a skin exam, don’t fret! Just schedule an evaluation as soon as possible. It’s never too late to have your skin checked and learn about prevention.
If you have a family history of skin cancer, have lots of moles, notice new or changing lesions or have used tanning beds, Dr. Kademian urges you to schedule your first evaluation as soon as possible, regardless of your age.
Dr. Kademian recommends that individuals ages 30+ come in annually for a skin evaluation, however some people come in 2-3x per year if they’ve had skin cancer in the past or are at higher risk for skin cancer (due to family history, moles, tanning bed use or significant past sun exposure). Many people who have moles will continue to develop new ones into their 30’s, so it’s always wise to have new moles checked.
***Note for kids: If your child does not have lots of moles or a family history of melanoma AND they see a pediatrician regularly who is monitoring their skin, this is typically sufficient. However it’s always ok to seek out a dermatologist for children if you’re worried about it!
Dr. Kademian’s tips for monitoring skin at home
Add a monthly or quarterly appointment on your calendar to remind yourself to do a skin check. You’ll want to evaluate all parts of your body because it is still possible for skin cancer to grow in uncommon areas that are not normally exposed to the sun.
Know your ABCDE’s—this is an acronym for things to look for in your skin, particularly with moles.
- Asymmetry – when one side of the mole does not match the other
- Border – when borders of the mole are jagged or uneven
- Color – when a mole contains a variety of colors instead of one solid color
- Diameter – when a mole grows larger than the size of a pencil eraser (about ¼inch in diameter)
- Evolution – when your mole changes, whether that is a change in color, size, shape, elevation, or any other new change you may notice. ***This is the most important one to monitor. If anything is growing, itching, bleeding, changing color, getting scaly or anything else that seems odd…Get. It. Checked!
Let’s talk sunscreen
You should be wearing SPF every day, even in the winter months or on cloudy days, so you’ll want to get into the habit of applying a broad spectrum sunscreen (UVA & UVB) to your face and hands daily. Wearing a reliable SPF is the best way we can protect our skin from sun damage, which can lead to sun spots, premature wrinkles and skin aging, and of course, skin cancer! So which sunscreen offers the best protection? Dr. Kademian’s advice is this:
The best sunscreen is the one you’ll actually wear.
If you don’t like how a sunscreen feels or looks when it’s on, you simply won’t use it. Finding the right sunscreen may take some time, but once you’ve found it, you’ll never look back.
What to look for in a sunscreen
When beginning the selection process, look for a moisturizer with at least an SPF 30 and broad spectrum protection (also called UVA and UVB protection). Dr. Kademian favors physical (also called mineral) sunscreens with titanium dioxide and zinc because they eliminate the need to apply chemicals to your skin on a regular basis.
Dr. Kademian’s recommendations:
Take care of your entire body with a broad spectrum, 100% mineral SPF that provides invisible protection.
It can be incredibly difficult to find physical based sunscreens at a reasonable price that aren’t white and pasty, but EltaMD’s zinc-based sunscreen is affordable and goes on clear for a lightweight, flawless finish — and it’s even available in a tinted version.
This full-mineral formulation is great for reapplication throughout the day — so much so that Dr. Kademian likes to always have one on the go!
This sunscreen is purely physical, goes on clear and absorbs quickly for a weightless feel on your skin.
Worried you aren’t getting enough Vitamin D? Enter: Hum Nutrition Vitamin D3. These high-potency softgels have you covered all year round, so you never have to feel bad about protecting your skin from the sun.
The bottom line
At Vérité, we are striving to create an open line of communication with our patients so that they feel comfortable voicing any concerns they have regarding skin cancer or any other skin concerns. Since education is at the forefront of prevention when it comes to skin cancer, we want to make sure you have all the resources necessary to feel empowered about the health of your skin. If you’re ever in doubt or want a second opinion, please do not hesitate to reach out to us!
If you have a new or changing lesion, if you have fair skin, a family history of skin cancer, many moles, a history of abnormal moles or a history of sun burns or tanning bed use, it is even more important that you are checked annually. Now more than ever, we need to remember not to ignore changes in our health and skin and be proactive. We are here to help!