By Anna C. Christensen, UA Cancer Center
TUCSON, Ariz. – Skin cancer, the most common type of cancer in the world, is caused mainly by exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. In Arizona, skin cancer awareness programs ramp up with the escalating temperatures from spring to summer. By the time the mid-summer monsoons hit, however, these messages start to fall off our radar. When the weather once again is hospitable as fall rolls around, many of us are back to enjoying the outdoors without adequate sun protection. Nevertheless, reducing our risk of skin cancer is a year-round activity.
Lisa Quale, health educator at the University of Arizona Cancer Center Skin Cancer Institute, works with the community to help people learn the best ways to enjoy the sun’s benefits while protecting themselves from cancer-causing UV radiation. Each Tuesday in August, the UA Cancer Center is providing “Bear Down. Beat Cancer. Top 5 Strategies for Reducing Skin Cancer Risk.” Employing these strategies in combination will provide the best protection.
Top Five Strategy No. 5: Skin Cancer Screening
The UA Skin Cancer Institute recommends a regular skin exam – your dermatologist can let you know how often you need an exam based on your family history of skin cancer, your own history of skin cancer and other risk factors.
The exam is best performed by a dermatologist who specializes in skin health rather than cosmetic procedures. To make the exam easier, wear your hair down, don’t wear makeup and remove nail polish.
A skin exam is a visual inspection that takes about 10 to 15 minutes. Photos of spots or moles may be taken to track their appearance over time.
If a suspicious spot is found, it often will be biopsied on the same day. The biopsy should not be painful – a local anesthetic will be used – though you’ll feel some pressure. The skin sample will be sent to a lab for analysis.
The UA Cancer Center has dermatologists who can perform regular skin exams. “They have a full dermatology clinic that focuses on all skin health, not just skin cancer,” says Quale. “They’ve got the whole spectrum of care.”
Exams usually are covered by insurance with a copay. If you lack insurance, you still can get screening and care from a low-cost or free clinic, or from dermatologists who offer discounts. Free screenings may be available near you.
In Tucson, the UA Skin Cancer Institute will offer free screenings in mobile clinics during Melanoma Walk 2017, which is scheduled Saturday, Nov. 4, on the UA Mall. For more information, please visit fightmelanomatoday.org.
“The screenings are great,” Quale says. “We’ve identified several potential skin cancers over the years, and even a couple of melanomas! It’s been an effective screening for sure.”
To reduce your risk of skin cancer, follow the five tips in this series – in the order they are given.
“Avoidance is definitely the best,” says Quale. “Using the right kind of cover-up can be quite effective too. Choose long sleeves, pants, socks and shoes, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses. Sunscreen is always necessary on the areas you can’t cover up.”
Perform monthly self-exams and schedule regular exams with a dermatologist. Although exams can’t undo damage, they can help catch skin cancer early, before it becomes life threatening.
Incorporating these five tips into your routine can protect your skin from sunburn, premature aging and cancer. Your skin will thank you.
Your skin health is important regardless of the season. For strategies to reduce your skin cancer risk every day of the year, check out the five tips here. To request an appointment with a dermatologist, please call the UA Cancer Center at 520-694-2873. You can find more information on the UA Cancer Center’s website.