Keep skin cancer at bay with common sense while you’re in the sun

Nikki Sommer, a nurse with Key West Surgical Group, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5 FM for Medical Matters yesterday morning.

Skin cancer is a concern for everyone, but especially for those of us who live in the sun.

Sommer said, “Skin cancer is abnormal growth of skin cells that usually occurs because of recurrent sun exposure. But it also can occur in areas that are not exposed to the sun, meaning your bum, your bottom.”

What are the three most common types of skin cancer?

Sommer said, “Basal cell which is a type of skin cancer that begins in the basal cells of your skin. The cell produces new skin cells as the old ones die off. Basal Cell Carcinoma usually appears on the head and neck areas that are exposed to the sun the most. These lesions are often shiny, skin colored bumps, can almost look translucent. A lot of times people say they feel it, but you almost can’t see it and it doesn’t look like anything and it’ll bleed, it could scab and then sometimes it will get dark. So they’re brown, black, blueish. This one is the one that that most likely will not spread and cause any problems. So those at risk are fair skinned who have chronic sun exposure and my daughter is over here because she’s a redhead full of freckles, light skin. Basal cell can take decades to develop. It’s more common in older people however it can occur in your 20s and 30s. Family history of breast cancer, you’re more likely to get breast cancer if you’re on some type of immune suppressing drugs, exposure to arsenic, contaminated well water. Usually when you remove the lesion it is gone. It doesn’t spread. Now it can get very large. We did have a gentleman that had a very large open sore on his body that actually we thought was a more aggressive type of cancer and it wasn’t, it was a basal cell. It just was left untreated for a very long time.”

Basal cell should be removed, but it generally is not a harmful type of cancer.

Sommer said, “Squamous cell carcinoma is in the middle to outer layers of your skin, this one can become aggressive and spread to other parts of the body. So this is one of the ones that you’ve got to pay attention to if there’s something on your body and it usually changes pretty quickly. It’s also from chronic sunlight UV radiation exposure. Tanning beds are a big culprit. So if you were a tanning bed fan back in the day, you’re more susceptible to get squamous cell skin cancer. Again, this can be found in any part of your body including your private parts.”

What can squamous cells look like?

Sommer said, “Brown, red nodule, a black sore with a scaly crust. Sometimes people think they bump their arm or cut their arm and then they don’t heal and it becomes bigger and raised. If you have an old scar, a scaly patch on your lip that develops into a sore, a red sore dry patch inside your mouth or a sore in your genital area or your rectum, get it checked out because it could be squamous cell.”

Who’s at risk?

Sommer said, “All skin types can get squamous cell, though, it’s just fair skin is more susceptible. So if you’re blonde or have red hair, light eyes, you are at higher risk for getting squamous cell cancer. Excessive sun exposure, as we are down here, make sure you keep covered and wear sunscreen.”

What can you do if you have squamous cell skin cancer?

Sommer said, “If it’s left untreated, then you’ve got to be careful because this one can go into the lymph nodes and spread then it becomes a widespread problem, a really big problem.”

Melanoma is the third type of skin cancer.

Sommer said, “The big one is melanoma, that’s what you hear about and that’s the one that I had. I had that little spot on my back that was so tiny it didn’t look like anything to me. I didn’t notice it but it did pop up kind of quickly. So, melanoma is produced where your skin has melanin, that’s the pigment in your skin. That’s what gives the color. So again, excessive exposure to sunlight increases your risk for melanoma. Increasingly among people who are under the age of 40, especially women, it can be found on the soles of your feet, palms of your hand, fingernails, back, neck, arms and face and I really think this is what Bob Marley died of. I think he had melanoma in his toenails if I’m not mistaken.”

Watch out for the moles.

Sommer said, “Change in an existing mole or new growth on your skin. Like I said, the one that I had, I didn’t know was there and I have a lot of freckles and somebody had noticed it on my back. They said, you have this little black spot on your back. I couldn’t see but nobody had ever pointed it out to me before. So, moles usually look, they’re uniform in shape. They’re tan, they’re brown, they can be black, but they have a distinct border, meaning like they’re round, everything looks even. When you have unusual moles, you’ve got to think of the ABCDE rule.”

A is asymmetrical.

Sommer said, “Meaning that the mole has an irregular shape or it has two different halves, like it looks like it’s one mole but it’s split or has kind of like a discoloration on either side. That’s something to be learned about. B is border. Is the border irregular, like knots or scalloped, there isn’t like a round border.”

C is changing color.

Sommer said, “Moles that have multiple colors or an even color. So if it’s dark, light tan brown, it’s a mix, those are moles you’ve got to be concerned about.”

D is diameter.

Sommer said, “Look for a mole larger than a quarter inch, those big moles, especially if they have everything above, plus they’re bigger than a quarter inch, you need to get that looked. E is evolving. Look for change over time, the size, the color, everything really, that we just talked about. They can also become itchy and they could bleed, any type of mole that becomes itchy, bleeds or again, like you could bump it and it doesn’t heal, that’s a sign that you need to go get that checked out right away.”

Key West Surgical Group will remove moles.

Sommer said, “We remove ugly looking moles in the office and we send it out for pathology. When it goes to the pathologist, they will always look to make sure you have clear borders. If you don’t, that means you’ve got to come back and they’ve got to take a little bit of a bigger piece. Most of the time it can be done in the office, melanoma and squamous cell, depending on the depth, the size, and where it is, you might actually have to go in for surgery, I know with melanoma, they will take a wide area.”

The PicoSure laser at Key West Surgical Group can help with other skin blemishes.

Sommer said, “You need to let us know if you had any cancer on your face or your body before we use our laser because it’s for non cancer skin issues.”

It is completely safe technology.

Sommer confirmed, “Yes, it is. Even though the summer is coming and you need to protect your skin. Yes, it’s laser, but there’s no downtime, meaning you’re not going to be as red. So you will be able to go outside, however you need to protect yourself with sunscreen and a hat. That doesn’t change. I mean, it is a lifestyle change. If you get laser, you need to make sure that you protect your skin because we’re trying to fix it. So we want to try and prevent more pigmentation from occurring. So keep your skin protected. This laser is a good choice for the climate we live in if you want to have laser skin rejuvenation.”

The PicoSure laser also handles tattoo removal.

Sommer said, “If you have some regrets in your past and you put them on your body, we can erase that.”

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