Skin Cancer Q&A
What are risk factors for skin cancer?
You might be at risk for skin cancer if you have:
- Fair skin, skin that freckles, skin that easily turns red, or skin that quickly becomes sensitive after being exposed to the sun
- Green or blue eyes
- Blond hair or red hair
- Often been exposed to the sun at work or play
- Had 1 or more sunburns, especially as a child
- A family history of skin cancer
When checking my skin, what should I look for?
If you live in sunny Southern California, you should check your skin at least once monthly and see your dermatologist Lawrence Moy, MD, immediately if you find areas of skin that have:
- Changed color or texture
- New growths
- Growths that have changed shape
- Growths that ooze blood or fluid and crust or scab but open and ooze again
- Sores that do not heal after 2 weeks
How do I know if skin growth is dangerous?
Only a dermatologist such as Dr. Moy can determine whether your skin growth is benign, precancerous, or cancerous. If you have a suspicious growth, Dr. Moy will remove part or all of it and send it to a lab for testing. He will advise you if you need additional treatment to ensure that all the abnormal (precancerous) or cancerous cells have been removed.
Is melanoma dangerous? Can melanoma spread?
If it is not treated, melanoma can spread and cause serious illness and death in some cases. The good news is that melanoma is curable if it is discovered and treated in its early stages.
Skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma can either be managed or cured.
To find skin cancer early and protect your overall health, see your dermatologist at least once each year. If you have a history of skin cancer or if you have suspicious areas on your skin, see your dermatologist immediately.
How is skin cancer treated?
Treatment for skin cancer depends on the type of cancer as well as the size, location, and depth of the tumor. Dr. Moy also will consider your age and overall health when developing your skin cancer treatment plan.
Dr. Moy surgically removes (or excises) most cases of melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and basal cell carcinoma. There are other techniques for treating skin cancers, including radiation, electrosurgery, cryosurgery, photodynamic therapy, laser surgery, curettage, and topical medications. Dr. Moy can tell you what skin cancer treatment will yield the best results for you.
How can I prevent skin cancer?
The best way to prevent skin cancer is to limit your exposure to the sun year around, especially when you live and are active outdoors in a sunny geographic location like Southern California!
Is there a safe way to get a tan?
No! There is no safe way to get a tan because skin damaging ultra violet rays must enter the skin to create a tan.
How does sun exposure affect me over time?
The more exposure you have to the sun can, the sooner and more severely your skin will wrinkle, roughen, become blotchy, become less resilient, and be prone to bruising and skin cancer. But you also can damage your skin and increase your odds for skin cancer with just 1 sunburn.
Can I safely use a tanning bed?
No! Tanning beds are never safe. UV rays from sunlamps and tanning beds are as dangerous as UV rays from the sun. For this reason, Dr. Moy recommends avoiding sunlamps and tanning beds.
What sunscreens are good for sensitive skin?
If you have sensitive skin, look for chemical-free sunscreens that contain titanium dioxide and zinc oxide that reflect rather than absorb the sun’s rays. Dr. Moy can recommend a sunscreen that works with your skin type.
Which sunscreen should I use?
Always use a sunscreen that best protects your skin type. If you have fair skin, you should use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor or SPF of 30 or more. Be sure to apply it generously and reapply it to ensure your skin is well protected from the sun.
People with less fair or darker skin can use sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or more as long as it is generously and frequently reapplied to offer comprehensive protection from the sun.
Ask your dermatologist to recommend a sunscreen that gives you all the protection you need from the sun.
When should I use sunscreen?
Skin cancer often results from long-term exposure to UV rays. For this reason, you should protect your skin with a sunscreen every day of the year all year around, including cloudy as well as sunny days. Remember that clouds and ozone do not protect you from UV rays. Even thin clouds can scatter radiation and raise levels of UV, making the radiation higher than when skies are clear.
Although the sun’s rays are strongest in the summer, UV rays can damage your skin throughout the year. For example, UV can reflect off the snow in the winter, and it can reflect off water, cement, and during the spring, summer, and fall.
Will using sunscreen keep me from getting the vitamin D I need to stay healthy?
You can still get the vitamin D you need to be healthy even if you wear sunscreen.
If you are concerned about getting enough vitamin D, ask your doctor about other ways to get vitamin D without increasing your risk for skin cancer.