Skin Cancer Preventing, Identifying and Treating Skin Cancer

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Dr. Kashif: Courtesy of Dr. Ali Kashif

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer worldwide, with millions of cases diagnosed
each year.

Silver Spring oncologist and hematologist Dr. Ali Kashif says one out of every five people get skin cancer, more than all cancers combined.

“Luckily with skin cancer, if you detect it early, the five-year survival rate is over 99 percent,” says Kashif, who practices at Maryland Oncology Hematology at White Oak Cancer Center.

The incidence of skin cancer is on the rise because of early detection and better detection, Kashif says. “We’re raising more awareness of skin cancer.”

The single most preventative measure you can take is protecting yourself against sun exposure, he says.

The types of skin cancer include ones that arise from the top layer of the skin called squamous. Basal skin cancer is a layer below the epidermis. Melanoma is another form that arises from the top layer of the skin, he says.

Besides the UV light of sun exposure, another risk factor is age. “The longer you live, the more likely your skin is prone to developing skin cancer,” he says. “And men have a higher risk than women.”

Exposure to radiation in the past or treatment for other types of cancer are other reasons that leave people more prone to skin cancer. People with chronic ulcers or wounds that don’t heal have an increased chance of developing skin cancer. A family history, regardless of how much sun exposure you have, makes you more at risk. People with fair skin also are at greater risk.

Long associated with lung cancer, smoking can increase the risk for skin cancer. Additionally, medications that suppress the immune system and some cancer treatments can also increase the risk, Kashif says.

His best advice is to cover up by wearing long-sleeved shirts and trousers outdoors. Use a sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher and it has to include UVA and UVB protection. “It’s no longer an issue but it used to be that sunscreens would not always cover both spectrums of
UV light.”

Wearing a hat when possible is important. “People think because you have hair on your head, you’ll be safe, but the scalp has a tendency to develop skin cancer.”

So too, the area around the eyes is very sensitive so sunglasses are recommended. “Some degree of UV protection can not only protect your eyes but the skin around the eyes.”

Kashif advises against the use of tanning beds. The UV light produced by tanning beds is 10 to 15 times more than what you would get from sunlight.

The treatment options depend on the type of skin cancer. One of the more aggressive types called melanoma may call for very extensive surgery, going very deep to remove lymph nodes or glands.

Surgery is always preferred, but when that’s not possible, there’s cryotherapy where the doctor takes liquid nitrogen to the cancer cells, killing them off that way. There is also a treatment called photodynamic therapy where an applied chemical is absorbed into the skin cancer.

Then light applied kills the tumor. Another treatment is a cream that’s applied to the cancer. There is also a treatment that involves activating your immune system to eradicate the cancer. Laser therapy, radiation and immune therapy can also rid the skin of cancer.

Kashif advises people to take proactive steps to prevent skin cancer and detect it early. Most important is to check your skin regularly.

“If you see any abnormal lesions that weren’t there before, if you noticed there’s a spot on your skin that’s changing or growing, it’s important to bring that up to your primary care doctor who will then refer you to a dermatologist.”

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