Sarah Cannon - September 27, 2018
by Sarah Cannon

Dr. Meredith McKean Summer fun in the sun might be ending, but that doesn't mean that you and your loved ones should stop educating yourselves about the risks of skin cancer and steps you can take to help prevent it.

What is skin cancer?

Skin cancer is a common type of cancer, and there are many forms including:

  • Actinic Keratoses (AK)
  • Basal cell carcinoma (BCC)
  • Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)
  • Melanoma

What causes skin cancer?

One of the primary causes of skin cancer is exposure to the sun’s UVA and UVB rays, which can damage the skin and lead to skin cancer. Too much exposure to this ultraviolet (UV) radiation, including rays from artificial sources such as tanning beds, can increase the chance of developing skin cancer.

However, UV rays are not the only cause of skin cancer. People who have a relative with melanoma, have undergone an organ transplant or have a weakened immune system due to diseases, receive a significant number of X-ray treatments, or have been diagnosed with specific diseases such as xeroderma pigmentosum or Gorlin's syndrome (also called basal cell nevus syndrome) have a greater chance of developing some form of skin cancer. Other risk factors include exposure to chemicals such as arsenic, coal or industrial tar, as well as smoking or chewing tobacco.

What should I look for?

When considering the warning signs of skin cancer, pay attention to changes in your skin. Moles, freckles and other skin irregularities may not be signs of skin cancer, but you should speak to your doctor if you notice any changes in the below:

  • A = Asymmetry is when one half of the growth looks different than the other half
  • B = Borders that are irregular
  • C = Color changes or more than one color
  • D = Diameter greater than the size of a pencil eraser
  • E = Evolving is when there are changes in size, shape, symptoms (itching, tenderness), surface (especially bleeding) or shades of color

How can I protect myself?

It’s important that you perform a full-body self-exam monthly, and also visit either your primary care physician or dermatologist once a year for a skin check.

“You are never too young or too old to take action and protect yourself from developing skin cancer,” says Dr. Meredith McKean, Investigator in the Melanoma Research Program at Sarah Cannon Research Institute.

You can protect your skin by:

  • Limiting your time in the sun, staying in shady areas and using an umbrella
  • Avoiding tanning beds
  • Using sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher, at least 15 minutes before going outside and reapplying every two hours
  • Wearing protective clothing
  • Wearing wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses to protect your face and neck
  • Always checking the UV index, and remembering that UV rays are most dangerous between 10am-4pm as well as near water, snow and sand because the rays reflect from the ground.

What are the advancements in skin cancer research and treatment?

Melanoma accounts for only about 1% of skin cancers, but causes a large majority of skin cancer-related deaths. There have been exciting advancements in skin cancer treatment research, specifically immunotherapy and targeted therapies for patients with melanoma that have been approved by the FDA in the last few years. Some of these newer drugs work to help awaken the immune system to fight the cancer, while other new therapies work to target mutations within specific genes - BRAF and MEK. The targeted treatments have been approved as monotherapy (single therapy) and combination therapy (paired with another treatment) for certain types of patients with melanoma.

“Prior to 2011, treatment options for patients with locally advanced or metastatic melanoma were very limited. Thanks to patients participating in ground-breaking clinical trials performed around the world, including here at Sarah Cannon Research Institute, patients with advanced melanoma now have treatments available that will help them live longer, ” says Dr. McKean. “Ongoing clinical trials continue to assess new therapies and combinations of medications to find more treatment options for patients with advanced melanoma.”

Efficacy of immunotherapy and targeted therapy in locally advanced disease and the development of additional novel immunotherapies to treat metastatic melanoma continue to be focuses of melanoma research.

If you have questions about skin cancer, call askSARAH at (844) 482-4812 and speak to a nurse available 24/7.