Woman enjoying sun with hat
May 22, 2017 | by Daniel Berg MD

We’re finally starting to see some sunshine in Seattle and most of us are smiling about the longer days. When the sun is out, we enjoy so many different outdoor activities that boost our health and well-being. Yet we also know that the ultraviolet light present in sunlight or tanning booths is a major factor in causing all of the common types of skin cancer. Learn what you can do to prevent, detect and treat skin cancer.

Three Types of Skin Cancer

Of the three most common types, melanoma receives most of the attention because it is more likely to spread than the other types. Basal cell cancer (the most common skin cancer) and squamous cell cancer are much more common and can be harmful by direct growth into important or visible structures. Though less likely to spread than melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma can leave the skin and travel elsewhere in the body.

Practice Safe Sun

Fortunately, it is possible to enjoy most outdoor activities and still practice what we call ‘safe sun.’ Yes, even we dermatologists can be found outside on a sunny day! Covering up wherever possible using hats or long sleeves, as well as sunscreen for the areas you can’t cover, will protect you a lot.

Learn the Signs of Skin Cancer

Nevertheless, if we do develop a skin cancer, it is ideal to catch it early. Because skin cancer is visible, it is important to educate yourself on what to look for, and what to be suspicious of on your skin.

While melanoma commonly shows up as an unusual mole, the more common basal and squamous cell cancers usually don’t have the pigment seen in melanoma. They can show up as a non-healing sore, scaly area, or growing bump. Sometimes they can be quite subtle and even look like slowly expanding scar tissue without any history of injury.

Get Your Skin Checked

If you have a growth or patch of skin you are concerned about, contact your primary doctor or dermatologist for advice and testing (biopsy) if needed.

Early recognition of skin cancer increases the options for treatment and reduces the amount of scarring from surgery that may be required to remove it.

When Treatment for Skin Cancer is Needed

In some cases, skin cancers can be treated with creams or simple scraping procedures in the office. For more difficult skin cancers, removal with stitching is done.

Mohs Surgery

Mohs micrographic surgery is a very helpful technique especially for removing basal and squamous cell skin cancers found on the face. In Mohs surgery, the amount of skin to be removed is guided by evaluating each layer of skin under a microscope with results the same day rather than the usual several days. This allows more precise removal of the skin and leads to the highest cure rates for certain kinds of skin cancers.

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Written By: Daniel Berg MD