Summer, sun, and skin cancer - what you should know

August 6, 2014 Andrew R. Ting, MD, FACS

It is easy to get carried away enjoying the string of lovely sunny summer days we have had in Seattle. Our sun is strong, and our unprotected skin vulnerable to UV damage that can lead to sun damage and perhaps skin cancers. Skin cancers fall into the broad categories of squamous cell cancer, basal cell cancer and melanoma. Each of these cancers are usually surgically excised or destroyed by either a dermatologist or general surgeon.

How to tell if a skin lesion is concerning

Warning signs include moles larger than a pencil eraser head, change in size, change in color, itching, bleeding or scab forming over the mole. Areas of particular concern include face, neck, back and extremities. However, skin cancers can also develop in areas where the sun does not shine.

What to do if I have a skin cancer?

If you have a mole or skin lesion that is concerning, bring it up with your family physician who may biopsy it or refer you on to a dermatologist.

What does surgery entail?

If you have a biopsy proven skin cancer, you will likely be referred to a general surgeon, especially if the skin cancer is melanoma. The general surgeon will usually recommend surgically removing the biopsy site. Sometimes, a sampling of lymph nodes (glands close to the biopsy) may be required and this is done at the same time as the surgical removal of the skin cancer. Additional treatments are sometimes needed, such as vaccine therapy, chemotherapy or radiation therapy in some circumstances and this is done in coordination with an oncologist and or radiation therapist.

Remember these tips to help prevent skin cancer

Apply sun block liberally to sun exposed areas, wear hats and sunglasses and re-apply after being in the water or after three hours of exposure. SPF clothing can protect both the young and old. Minimize sun exposure when the sun is the strongest between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.

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