Skin Cancer Awareness Month: Your Top Questions Answered by Board-Certified Dermatologist Adam Wallach, M.D.
In the United States, one in five people will develop skin cancer by the age of 70, according to The Skin Cancer Foundation. Skin cancer is one of the most preventable cancers and that is why May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, created to educate and raise awareness on the importance of sun safety. In support of Skin Cancer Awareness Month, Dr. Adam Wallach, M.D sits down with us to talk about America’s most common cancer, the risk factors, sunburns, sun exposure, and full skin exams.
Who is more at risk for skin cancer?
I have diagnosed skin cancer in many ethnicities and races, including African American, Indian, Asian, Latino, and Caucasian. However, people with lighter skin types, who possess less of the ultraviolet (UV)- absorbing skin pigment called melanin (like persons of Anglo-Saxon or Nordic descent), are at relatively higher risk. Interestingly, in those of African or Asian ethnicities, the plantar side of the feet and palmar side of the hands are the most common places for melanoma, where the skin is lighter and contains less melanin.
What should I be looking for to help detect skin cancer?
For those who are 40 years old or older, when performing a self-exam, look for changes. When looking at spots, pay attention to new growths, changes in shape, essentially, anything that looks different than your usual spots. In other words, look for the ‘ugly duckling’ on your body – that mole that stands out from the group.
Other things to consider: cancers can sometimes bleed, and a mole that is becoming cancerous may itch at times. Here is where I emphasize the importance of getting to know your spots through regular self-exams. Check your entire body at least once per month and have a family member help check those hard-to-reach spots or use a mirror. During your monthly self-exams, if you notice any changes, reach out to your dermatology provider as soon as possible to schedule an appointment.
Are sunburns any more dangerous to a young person than an older person?
Sunburns that occur early in life are a known risk factor for the future development of skin cancer. Most importantly, these early burns constitute an important risk factor for the future development of malignant melanoma.
To what extent does sun exposure contribute to wrinkles, sunspots, and loss of elasticity?
Aging is divided into intrinsic and extrinsic factors. Intrinsic aging is the aging that would occur in the absence of external factors. It is determined principally by genetics. In the absence of the sun, one would still develop wrinkles because of the loss of collagen and elastin. Sun exposure adds significantly to aging by augmenting the breakdown of collagen and elastin in addition to producing sunspots and dilated blood vessels. Yet another reason to be cautious and take protective measures against UV exposure!
Can I get a full skin exam as part of my annual physical from my primary provider?
Of course, you can, and this can be extremely beneficial in detecting early cancers which are then referred to a dermatological provider for treatment. However, if you have many moles or a family history of melanoma, I recommend also seeing your local dermatologist who should be able to provide an extra level of certainty about which lesions might require further examination by biopsy. Making an annual skin exam a habit just like your annual physical or annual dental checkup is highly recommended.
Which sunscreens are your favorite and why?
My favorite sunscreens are from EltaMD®. My daily use sunscreen is EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46. It is super lightweight and a favorite among my patients with normal to oily skin. This is also the only tinted sunscreen I have found that almost all men like and which blends upon application without any unusual trace of color. If I am going to be engaging athletically then I use the EltaMD UV Sport Broad-Spectrum SPF 50, which is an amazing water-resistant sunscreen that does not feel tacky like most sport-type sunscreens. Finally, I love EltaMD UV Lip Balm Broad-Spectrum SPF 36 for lip protection. Do not forget that every part of our skin needs protection including the lips.
What are your top skin cancer prevention tips?
Schedule a regular yearly full skin exam with your dermatologist or more often if it makes you sleep better. Perform self-exams monthly, perhaps on the first of each month, using a full-length mirror and a hand-held mirror to see the back of your body as well as the front of your body. While performing the self-exam ask yourself “what looks different than the rest?” Finally, wear daily sunscreen EVERY SINGLE DAY, regardless of the weather, time of year, or plan for the day. Reapply it if exposure to the sun is greater than two hours and wear broadbrimmed hats instead of baseball hats.
About the Dermatology Provider
In private practice since 1997, Dr. Wallach treats patients at Skin Cancer & Dermatology Institute’s Truckee location. He diagnoses a full range of dermatologic problems for both adults and children, specializing in medical and cosmetic dermatology, including the use of various lasers over the last 25 years. He is a strong proponent of patient education in his practice and most recently is a contributing author to the chapter on the skin in the new highly reviewed book, The 21st Century Man. Dr. Wallach and his family live in the North Tahoe area. Get to know Dr. Wallach and book an appointment online today.
Bringing you patient-centered, world-class dermatological care with 10 locations in the Reno-Tahoe area. Skin Cancer & Dermatology Institute specializes in Medical Dermatology, Mohs Skin Cancer Surgery, and Cosmetic Dermatology.
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