With the weather heating up, summer will be here before we know it! As restrictions lessen, many of us are taking time to enjoy the outdoors with swimming, sunbathing, hiking, picnicking, and more! May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month and at DM Foot & Ankle Associates, we want to educate our patients on the importance of early detection and warning signs of skin cancer, as well as ways to lower your risk.
Common Types of Skin Cancer
Also known as solar keratosis, actinic keratosis is the most common precancer that forms on skin from exposure to chronic ultraviolet (UV) rays either from the sun or indoor tanning. As a result, crusty, scaly growths may begin to develop due to UV radiation damage. These spots are typically found on the face, lips, ears, bald scalp, shoulders, neck, back of the hands, and forearms.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) is a type of skin cancer typically formed in areas that are often overexposed to the sun like your face, ears, scalp, shoulders and neck. These cancerous cells form abnormal growths, but other common signs to look out for may include:
- Dome shaped growths – These can appear as slow growing, dome-shaped lumps that flatten out over time, may ooze, and leave a crust
- Scales – Basal cell cancer can present itself as a shiny and scaly pink-red patch of skin that grows slowly and is often mistaken for eczema
- Sores that bleed easily – Sores are easy to open and difficult to stop bleeding and do not heal
- Shiny or waxy skin growths – These lumps appear almost like a scar, and can range in color from pale white to yellow pigment, and can even be the same color as your skin
Dysplastic Nevi, also known as atypical moles, are unusual-looking moles that are noncancerous. These moles may resemble melanoma when using the ABC’s, but are noncancerous. People who have dysplastic nevi are often at higher risk of developing melanoma and it is important to keep track of these spots and know your skin so that any changes can be brought to the attention of your doctor.
Melanoma is one of the most serious forms of skin cancer due to its ability to rapidly spread if not treated at an early stage. Once it spreads deeper into the skin or other parts of the body, it can become more difficult to treat. Melanomas can be difficult to detect because their shapes, sizes and colors are so varied. Here are the “ABCs” of melanoma warning signs that can help us to distinguish melanoma from non-cancerous moles:
- Asymmetry – Spots that may appear uneven in shape or one half is unlike the other
- Border – The border is irregular, jagged, or poorly defined
- Color – Multiple colors varying from one area to another; common shades of black, brown, white, tan, blue, or red
- Diameter – The size of the spot as melanomas are typically greater than 6mm in size, which is roughly the size of a pencil eraser. However, they can sometimes be smaller.
- Evolving – Any change in the mole or skin coloring/lesion that begins to look different from the rest; a change in size, shape, or color
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common form of skin cancer, however when detected early, they are often curable. This form of skin cancer occurs in areas of the body that have been damaged by harmful UV rays from the sun or tanning beds. Warning signs of squamous cell carcinoma skin cancer may include:
- Flat sores with a scaly crust
- New sores or raised patches over an old scar or ulcer
- Red sores or rough areas in the mouth
- Red, firm nodules
- Red, wart-like sores on or in the anus or genitals
- Rough, scaly patches on the lip or open sores on the lip
The Importance of Early Detection and Prevention
As with all medical conditions, early detection is the key to full recovery and successful treatments. Overexposure to the sun can affect any unprotected area, including your feet, make sure you protect your feet as well or you could end up with sunburnt feet.
We strongly urge our patients to undergo annual screenings as it is important to be aware of what is normal for your body so you can monitor any changes that may indicate the potential or presence of skin cancer. Skin cancer screenings are visual examinations to check moles, birthmarks, or other skin markers that can be indicators of cancerous tissue. During your examination, your doctor will check any spots that have an abnormal size, color, or texture.
If cancer is suspected, a quick biopsy will be able to indicate if the tissue needs to be removed. It’s never too early to start having skin cancer screenings, especially if you have fair skin, multiple moles on your body, or if you have a family history of skin cancer. During your annual podiatric examinations, we will also check your feet for any abnormalities and changes that may be cause for concern. Once determined, we will discuss possible treatment options.
In addition to maintaining regular skin cancer screenings, you should also take preventative measures to best protect yourself. Studies show that nearly 90% of nonmelanoma skin cancers and 85% of melanomas are due to radiation damage caused by UV exposure.
- Avoid tanning beds as the ultraviolet light can cause skin cancer and premature aging
- Seek shade when appropriate. Avoid getting sunburn as this can increase your risk of developing skin cancer. The peak sun time includes any time from 10 am to 4 pm.
- Use caution when near water, snow, or sand as they can reflect the damaging rays of the sun
- Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UV-A and UV-B rays. For daily use, an SPF 15 can provide great protection. If you are going to be outdoors for a long time, use a water-resistant formula with an SPF of 30 or higher. Remember to reapply every 2 hours. Cover all exposed skin and don’t forget to apply it to your feet, toes, and ankles as well as other commonly missed areas such as the neck, ears, and the top of your head.
- Wear protective clothing that is lightweight and quick-drying to help keep you comfortable during the warmer months and use sunglasses and hats when possible.
It is important to be mindful of the sun, especially while recovering from sunburns as the skin is already tender and overexposure could cause deeper damage to occur and increase your risk for skin cancer. For more information about Skin Cancer Awareness Month, early prevention, and what you can do to reduce your risk, contact Heel To Toe Podiatry.