Published on June 05, 2020

Skin cancer may be common, but it also can be prevented and treated

By Christopher Burnett, MD

Woman at the beach holding sunscreen.An active outdoor life – golfing, biking, boating, gardening, farming, construction work and other activities – can keep people healthy throughout a lifetime. However, extended time outdoors in the sun can have an adverse effect on health. Skin cancer can develop as a result of prolonged unprotected exposure to the sun.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Waukesha County has one of the highest rates of new cases of melanomas of the skin in both Wisconsin and the U.S. Better news is that death rates from melanomas are relatively low.

Early detection and treatment is the major difference between the rates of new cases of skin cancer and deaths. It is common for patients to have excellent outcomes when they consult a doctor about an unusual aspect of their skin right away. Many patients can live melanoma-free after early treatment.

Prevent skin cancer before it starts

Skin cancer may be common, but it can often be prevented. The best ways to prevent sun damage and skin cancer are to:

  • Frequently apply sunscreen (SPF 30 or above).
  • Wear hats, sunglasses, gloves and protective clothing when outside.
  • Choose shade or shelter when outside.
  • Avoid tanning beds.
  • Know your family history of cancer.

Ask about changes in your skin

Skin cancer screening starts at home with a monthly self-examination. It’s also important to schedule a visit with a board-certified dermatologist if you have any questions about sun damage or areas on the skin that appear to be unusual, particularly if they bleed, form a scab, or change in size, shape or color.

The most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Diagnosing and treating these types of cancer early prevents them from becoming deeper or more extensive, which can lead to disfigurement.

In the case of melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma, early detection and treatment can be life-saving. These cancers have the potential to spread inside the body to lymph nodes and other organ systems.

Dermatologists have specialized training in the biopsy, diagnosis and treatment of different types and stages of skin cancer, as well as many other skin conditions. Treatments for skin cancer vary depending on the type and location, and may include topical medications, radiation therapy, excisional surgery or a tissue-sparing surgery known as Mohs micrographic surgery.

Risk is universal

Anyone can be at risk for skin cancer. Sun damage can develop in any season of the year, on cloudy days, and from indoor tanning. Skin cancer can occur across all skin types and colors. It can be found anywhere on the body – including the armpit or groin.

Annual or semi-annual dermatology visits are recommended for people who are at increased risk of skin cancer from long-term sun or tanning exposure, a personal or family history of cancer, or organ transplant medication. For these patients, regular medical skin checks are the best way to stop cancer from developing or advancing.

The skin is the largest organ in the body. It’s little wonder that skin cancer is common – particularly in our region. The important thing to remember is that skin damage is preventable and skin cancer is very treatable in its early stages.

Contact a physician if you have any concerns about your skin.

Christopher Burnett, MD, is a dermatologist who practices at the ProHealth Medical Group clinic in Pewaukee. ProHealth has a team of dermatologists who can treat a wide range of skin conditions at multiple locations in Waukesha County. Mohs micrographic surgery is provided by Dr. Burnett at the Pewaukee clinic. To find a dermatologist, visit ProHealthCare.org/Doctor.

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