The words "skin cancer" can be scary to hear, especially knowing that the United States alone sees millions of new diagnoses each year. When it comes to skin cancer, Charleston-area dermatologists Dr. Marguerite Germain and Dr. Joseph McGowan understand that patients facing the prospect of dealing with the disease want answers to their questions and to know that they are getting the best care they can.
That's why Germain Dermatology is committed to helping you stay as healthy and beautiful as possible by encouraging three strategies: prevention, detection, and treatment. Avoiding sun exposure by using sunscreen and protective coverings is the best first line of defense. Regular visits with a dermatologist who will inspect you from head to toe for signs of skin cancer and other skin conditions is a key strategy, too, since early detection greatly increases your chances of a better outcome. If skin cancer is diagnosed, treatment with the most advanced techniques available can often yield very positive results.
Skin cancer typically falls into one of three categories:
All three of these skin cancers have a common root cause: cellular damage at the DNA level, which can be due to exposure to ultraviolet radiation, also known as sunburn-generating light that comes from the sun and artificial sources, such as tanning beds.
This skin cancer forms in the basal cells, which create new skin cells to replace old ones that are no longer viable. It may appear as a bump or flat patch of scaly skin, and is the most common form of skin cancer. It is also slow to grow and spread and can be quite effectively treated, especially if caught early.
Dr. Marguerite Germain is known for her passion and desire to help others. In addition to her medical training she has long since developed an eye for beauty. Inspired by years spent traveling, particularly in Italy, her artistic talent evolved into inspiring confidence in others through her practice.
While not as prevalent as basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma is still common, forming in the upper layers of the skin and spreading more rapidly. This skin cancer, too, can be treated surgically for a very positive outcome.
The most aggressive and fatal of skin cancers, melanoma is also the least common. Forming in the cells that create pigment, melanoma requires special treatment and should be addressed as quickly as possible.
Melanoma and other skin cancers may resemble a mole, so any suspicious spots or growths should be examined by a dermatologist.
While skin cancer seems to have a genetic component, in that parents who develop cancers tend to have a greater likelihood of children also developing them, sun exposure is a significant risk factor. Avoiding sunburns, as well as cumulative sun damage from routine exposure, is recommended for anyone seeking to minimize their risk of developing skin cancer.
In general, try to avoid spending time outdoors during the times when the sun is at its highest point, typically late morning to late afternoon, or roughly 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. If going out in that time, wear clothing—including a hat—that provides cover for the skin and scalp.
Any exposed skin should be protected with sunscreen when going outdoors, no matter the time of day. Apply it at least 20 minutes to half an hour before leaving the house, as that amount of time will allow it to penetrate into the skin and truly work as protection. The sunscreen should have an adequate sun protection factor, ideally SPF 30 or more. Germain Dermatology offers several skincare products, including sunscreens that are SPF 50+.
A good rule of thumb is to use about a shot glass worth of sunscreen to cover the necessary areas. Do not forget to apply it to bare areas of the scalp, the tops of the ears, and the tops of the feet if open shoes or sandals are being worn.
Also, do not think glass or clouds will protect you from harmful radiation from the sun. Common areas of sun damage include the arms, which are frequently left on arm rests on the inside of vehicle doors, where sunlight beats down on them for long periods of time. Overcast days may seem to block the sunlight, but they really only prevent a clear view of the sun itself. Ultraviolet radiation still travels to the surface of the Earth—and to the surface of your skin and below, where it can harm cells.
Regular checkups with a dermatologist are essential, since doctors who specialize in skin care are best equipped to find and identify skin cancers. That said, more frequent self-checks are equally important—if not more so. Be particularly aware of moles that follow the ABCDE's of skin cancer: Lesions that exhibit any of the following signs should be considered potentially dangerous and should be shown to a dermatologist as soon as possible, as any of these characteristics can indicate the presence of cancer cells:
Asymmetry: Non-cancerous lesions tend to be circular, while cancerous lesions spread into more irregular shapes.
Border irregularities: Clearly defined and smooth edges are ideal, as cancer cells can create borders that are notched, scalloped, or even vague.
Changing colors: A benign mole is usually just a single shade of brown, whereas cancerous lesions are more likely to come in a wider range of colors, including black, red, and even blue or white, sometimes all within the same lesion.
Diameter larger than usual: In general, moles should be no larger around than a standard pencil eraser. If a lesion has grown bigger than that, have it looked at.
Evolving: A mole that changes its shape, size, color, or other aspects of its appearance over time—especially if it is a short amount of time—is definite cause for concern, as it may indicate the presence of skin cancer.
Treatment depends not just on the type of skin cancer identified, but also on where it is found on the face or body and how far along it has progressed. There are typically several strategies that can be employed, with one of the most effect being a specific type of surgery.
The Mohs technique is an advanced method for treating certain types of skin cancer by eliminating unwanted tissue with precision while maximizing the preservation of healthy tissue. While it is not a solution to melanoma, it can be quite effective in treatment of basal and squamous cell carcinomas. Learn more about it on our page devoted to explaining Mohs surgery.
Skin cancer is serious, which is why the team at Germain Dermatology is devoted to educating patients and providing the full force of our years of experience and knowledge of dermatology.