THE BLOG

Is This Mole Dangerous? The Truth About Detecting Skin Cancer

08/15/2013 08:59 EDT | Updated 10/15/2013 05:12 EDT
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Victoria's Secret, Men's Fitness, Jersey Shore. When it comes to society glamourizing the "sun kissed" look, you can point fingers in a thousand directions. While the beauty and entertainment industries continue to market being bronzed as being sexy, the reality of what sun damage does to thousands of Canadians each year is anything but.

Despite our geography, skin cancer has become the most common cancer in Canada. Each year more than 75,000 Canadian die from this disease, which is anything but pretty. Still young men and women continue to visit tanning beds and lay out in powerful rays in part to get that "healthy" glow. Fortunately our vanity can help in identifying some early stages of skin cancer. Dark spots on the face or body, commonly mistaken for "age spots," can often be the first sign of skin cancer.

As someone who is in the business of working with late stage skin cancer patients on a daily basis, I'm often asked how the disease can be avoided. To help address some of the most common questions about skin cancer prevention, I reached out to my colleague, dermatologist Dr. Jason Rivers.

How can I tell a sun spot from an age spot?

Dr. Rivers: In general, many "age spots" are in fact generated from sun exposure. Age spots can occur both on sun exposed and sun protected areas of the body whereas true sun spots (lentigos) only occur on those areas regularly exposed to the sun or where there has been a sunburn. Sun spots are always flat while age spots may be flat or raised/ scaly. Both are often shades of light to medium brown in color

How should my skin care routine change in the summer?

Most important is to remember to use sunscreen with at least an SPF 30 on a daily basis. Cleansing the skin after sweating also helps to keep the skin healthy

There are so many different formulations of sunscreen out there. Which offers the best protection against skin cancer?

Look for a product that has both UVA and UVB protection (in general sunscreens with SPF over 30 would have good broad spectrum coverage). Look for the CDA logo if you are confused. Remember that sunscreen is to be used in conjunction with other forms of sun protection (shade, clothing, etc.).

When should I be concerned about moles or freckles?

A new or changing lesion should be viewed with suspicion, especially in the setting of someone who has many moles (more than 100) or a past history of skin cancer. Look for the ugly duckling -- one spot that simply looks different from all other lesions.

If an irregularity in my skin turns out to be cancerous, what types of questions should I be asking and what are my treatment options?

This is a very complex question and depends on a number of characteristics of the tumour: size of lesion, histology, location on the body, etc. Initially skin cancers will be excised with further treatment being dictated on the factors I have mentioned above.

Rest assured that if you're diligent about wearing sunscreen and proactive about checking your skin for irregularities, your chances of catching problems early are good. If you do find yourself facing a skin cancer diagnosis, don't panic. There are several treatment options available to you. Aside from wearing sun protection and monitoring your skin for changes, arming yourself with knowledge is the most important thing you can do to prevent skin cancer.

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