Happy May and congratulations on surviving the rainiest Seattle winter on record. While we are all sun-starved and looking forward to warmer weather, it is important to recognize Skin Cancer Awareness month and review strategies for prevention of skin damage or skin cancer.
Skin cancer is incredibly common. At current rates, 1 in 5 Americans are expected to be diagnosed with skin cancer at some point in their lives. The good news is that the vast majority of these are either Basal Cell Carcinoma or Squamous Cell Carcinoma, both of which are very treatable and rarely cause death. However, they should be treated at the earliest stages to prevent disfigurement.
Malignant melanoma is far less common, but more likely to be fatal. Once melanoma is metastatic (spread beyond the skin to other organs) the 5-year survival rate is less than 20%.
Risk factors for both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers:
- Fair skin type, blonde or red hair and blue eyes
- Age >50
- History of sun exposure – risk increases with the number of blistering sunburns, but deliberate tanning is also dangerous
Melanoma specific risk factors:
- More than 50 moles
- Large or “odd” moles
- Personal history of skin cancer or other cancers
- Direct relative with melanoma
In terms of prevention, protection from ultraviolet rays (both UVA and UVB) is critical. I recommend a daily facial lotion of SPF 30 or higher, with the addition of a broad-brimmed hat and sun protective clothing for outdoor exposure longer than 20 minutes. Yes, even in Seattle or on cloudy days. In recognition of Skin Cancer Awareness month, we are offering 15% off all sunscreens.
The American Academy of Dermatology has put together a wonderful resource for patients to learn more about skin cancer, including how to perform skin exams on yourself and your partner. Please visit their website and start checking!
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