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Sharp Health News

Recognizing skin cancer

June 21, 2017

Recognizing skin cancer

Summer isn’t complete without barbecues, pool parties and beach days. Here in San Diego, we have the pleasure of enjoying sunny days all year long.

However, all that fun in the sun comes at a price. Over time, exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun — or tanning beds — can change the DNA in our skin and may eventually cause skin cancer. Sometimes these cancerous spots metastasize, or spread to other areas of the body, and become much harder to treat.

According to Dr. Gary Levinson, a board-certified internal medicine doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy, “It’s important to know what to look for so we can treat unusual skin growths that have the potential to turn into something more serious.”

Malignant melanoma
Often when we think of skin cancer, the first thing that comes to mind is malignant melanoma. This type of skin cancer is the least common, but the most deadly if left untreated. Malignant melanoma forms when melanocytes — the cells that create pigment — start growing out of control. Dr. Levinson recommends patients keep an eye on moles and freckles by “looking for the ABCDEs of melanoma: asymmetry, bleeding, color change, change in the depth or thickness, and whether they evolve over time.”

Squamous cell carcinoma
This type of cancer affects the outermost layer of our skin. Squamous cell carcinoma usually develops from precancerous patches, bumps or scaly spots known as actinic keratoses. Look out for areas of skin with these qualities and let your doctor know if you notice changes or spreading of previously diagnosed actinic keratoses.

Basal cell carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common and least deadly form of skin cancer. It affects the bottom layer of your skin and usually shows up in areas that receive frequent sun exposure, such as the face and arms. Basal cell carcinoma usually shows up as ulcer-like sores that never heal, or heal and reopen.

You can reduce your chances of developing skin cancer by staying out of the sun whenever possible and applying sunscreen daily. Dr. Levinson recommends choosing a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or above.

“Have your doctor check your skin for cancerous or suspicious growths at every physical,” says Dr. Levinson. “And always speak with your doctor if you notice a change in a mole or patch of skin.”

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