Hot Topics

Spotting Signs of Skin Cancer

Spotting Signs of Skin Cancer

These days, a sunny weekend trip to the lake, the beach or the park wouldn't be complete without a bottle of sunscreen.

Twenty years ago, that wasn't necessarily the case - and your skin may still be paying the price.

Healthy Life Magazine recently spoke with Dr. Joseph Newmark, MD FAAD, about skin cancer and its causes, consequences, treatment - and preventative methods.

"People don't realize we're in the midst of a skin cancer epidemic," said Dr. Newmark, citing three million new cases of skin cancer per year in the U.S. "Dermatologists are really doing their best to help people to get out the education to reduce this not only for people now, but for their children and grandchildren."

'LIKE' Healthy Life Magazine on Facebook

With all these new cases per year, who is most at risk?

"There are people who've had a lot more sun exposure than they might remember," said Dr. Newmark. "After sun exposure, if you have a bad sunburn, sun damage may not manifest itself for 10, 20, or even 30 years."

And what are some of the telltale signs that you should see a dermatologist?
"Any growth that you have that is rapidly changing, itching, painful, or bleeding on its own - or one that's scabbing or crusting," is a definite red flag, said Dr. Newmark.

AK's, or actinic keratoses, are often referred to as "sun spots" and are often considered to be the first step in the development of skin cancer. According to Dr. Newmark, the risk for them to develop into skin cancer ranges from 0.5% to 5% per year - and many of those at risk have more than one, multiplying their risk.
Addressing these problematic areas with a dermatologist before they develop into squamous cell carcinoma is key. "If you have a growth that might be skin cancer, don't put it off," Dr. Newmark said. "This is unfortunately a common thing that many people do."

There are multiple means of addressing these issues with your skin.

Cryosurgery

"One common way is to use liquid nitrogen to destroy the precancerous growths, before they have a chance to turn into skin cancer - this procedure is called cryosurgery," said Dr. Newmark. "For someone with a few of these legions, especially if they're scattered, this would be a good choice."

"It does have some risks, there's a risk it could heal with a little scar or an area of discoloration," Dr. Newmark said, "But by and large, it's a very simple, in-office procedure that can be done the day of the visit."

Creams

For someone with numerous legions, there are other treatment options available that not only treat visible problems, but also treat sun-damaged skin that cannot be seen.

"One way is with creams - and creams have been around a long time," said Dr. Newmark. "So you would give someone a cream, for example, to use over the whole face."

After a couple weeks of usage, patients should see results - if they keep up with using the products on a regular schedule.

Photodynamic therapy

Another field treatment - or solution that addresses more than just a patient's trouble spots - is photodynamic therapy.

"The way that treatment works is we apply a chemical to the treated area," said Dr. Newmark. "This chemical is a product that interacts with light, so the chemical is put on the skin and then we typically wait an hour ... and then we expose that area of the body to light. In this case, it's blue light."

The light stays on for approximately 17 minutes and "interacts with the chemical and produces a new product that attacks sun-damaged skin."

Typically, most people only need one or two of these treatments, Dr. Newmark explained. And after a couple of days of redness and heightened sensitivity to light, most of the trouble areas are eradicated.

With photodynamic therapy, the risk of scarring is very low.

"There is no treatment available anywhere that's going to treat the spots and reverse the effects where you'll never have them again," said Dr. Newmark. "But this is a very convenient way of treating pre-cancerous spots."

Avoiding exposure
With sunshine increasing as the seasons change in the Southern Tier, the most intense ultraviolet light takes place between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Dr. Newmark offered several recommendations to protect your skin from these dangerous UV rays:
- Stay in the shade when you can.
- Wear protective clothing, including hats
- Apply sunscreen with at least SPF 30 before you go out, so it binds to the skin
- Reapply sunscreen generously after going swimming

Contributor:
Joseph Newmark, MD, PC
4104 Old Vestal Rd.
Vestal, NY

By Chris Strub