By Dr. Matt Leavitt
A trip to the dermatologist has traditionally involved treatment for a specific skin problem like a rash, acne or a wart. Increasingly however patients are seeking care for a much more serious problem: skin cancer, which will affect one in five Americans in their lifetime.
This alarming increase in skin cancer incidence is leading board-certified dermatologists to take a proactive approach – urging patients to get full body examinations to identify potential skin cancers anywhere on the body, including areas where patients might not think skin cancer could occur.
The exam is simple, quick, and painless – but priceless for the early detection it offers.
More than 3 million people will be diagnosed with skin cancer this year, including nearly 200,000 Americans diagnosed with the deadliest form of skin cancer, melanoma.
When melanoma is detected early through exams like the Total-Body Skin Cancer Exam℠ offered at Advanced Dermatology, survival rates approach 99 percent. When detected at advanced stages, survival rates plummet to just 15 percent.
Because of the importance of early detection, health officials join together to mark Skin Cancer Awareness Month each year.
Who is at risk for skin cancer?
The factors that put people at high risk for skin cancer include a history of sunburns with blisters at any point in life, spending significant time outdoors for work or recreation, or having light colored hair or fair skin. People over 50 years old are also at higher risk, and men are more likely than women to get the disease. Anyone with a history of using tanning beds, which have been found to dramatically increase the cancer risk, is at greater risk.
Experts say it takes only one bad sunburn to double a person’s chance of getting melanoma.
Melanoma can affect anyone, regardless of race or gender. Melanoma can develop anywhere on the body – scalp, nails, feet, mouth, even the eyes. A common misconception is that melanoma only occurs on skin that has had extensive sun exposure. As many as three out of ten melanomas arise in completely sun-protected parts of the body. An annual Total-Body Skin Cancer Exam ensures that even these ‘hidden’ melanomas do not go undetected.
While detection is critical for problems created in the past, protection is the important theme of what to do to maintain your health in the future.
To protect your skin and your health, Advanced Dermatology recommends:
- Moles or growths that change, itch or bleed could be early warning signs of melanoma. Get them checked as soon as possible by a –board-certified dermatologist.
- Appropriate sunscreen use. Sunscreen has been shown to protect against the development of skin cancer.
- Seek shade when possible, cover up with clothing and wear sunglasses and wide brim hats when in the sun.
- Avoid tanning beds. Indoor tanning beds are harmful to your skin and may cause cancer, according to the Melanoma Research Foundation. Young people using tanning beds are 8 times more likely to develop melanoma.
Getting outdoors and being active in the sun is enjoyable and promotes good health. But it’s important to get an annual skin exam and take a few proactive steps to ensure your health is protected.
Dr. Matt Leavitt is Founder and CEO of Advanced Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery, which offers the Total-Body Skin Cancer Exam℠ at offices in The Villages. For more information on protecting your skin, please visit www.AdvancedDerm.com