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Can you spot skin cancer? Keep an eye out for these warning signs

Posted: 10:17 AM, May 21, 2019
Updated: 2019-05-21 14:17:20Z

May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month. Did you know skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States?! But it’s also the easiest to cure if it’s diagnosed and treated early.

Just ask Loretta Tester. She gets a regular skin check with a board certified dermatologist every six months. That’s because the Dearborn woman found two Basal Cell carcinomas on her face a few years ago -- the first one on her nose.

“It was like a little pink spot up here,” said Tester pointing to the right side of her nose.

She said she noticed the spots in early 2016 after seeing the story about my skin cancer in December of 2015.

Alicia Smith discusses skin cancer diagnosis

I had described how I noticed a dome-shaped bump on my upper lip that was a little shiny, translucent or skin-colored and may have had some blood vessels at the base.

At first I thought it was a pimple, but it never went away. In fact, it grew ever so slightly over half a dozen years.

That’s typical for basal cell carcinoma. But it can also show up as a flatter, pink, scaly patch.

“I saw [your story], and I go, ‘Wow, I have a spot on my nose that I’m not sure about. And I thought, well, you know, it wouldn’t hurt to come and find out,” said Tester.

Loretta Tester of Dearborn was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma in January of 2016.

The dermatologists at Middlebelt Dermatology Center in Farmington Hills did the biopsies. Then they recommended Tester have the Mohs micrographic surgery to remove the cancers.

Mohs is a process where the surgeon first cuts out the cancer and some normal looking skin immediately around it and below it.

The surgeon looks at the tissue under a microscope while you wait in the waiting room.
If there are still more cancer cells, the surgeon will bring the patient back in to repeat the process until no cancer cells are spotted under the scope.

“For the spot on my cheek, the surgeon had to go in six times!” Tester said recalling her Mohs surgery.

“Most people don’t realize, but 1 in 5 Americans will develop non-Melanoma skin cancer in their lifetime,” said Dr. Helen D’Sa – a board certified dermatologist at Middlebelt Dermatology Center.

Dr. D’Sa says 99% of non-melanoma skin cancer is caused by the sun.

"People like these tans. It makes them feel like they’re beautiful or they feel healthy having a tan. But really any sun rays on the skin [are] actually a sign of sun damage," explained Dr. D'Sa.

Tester grew up playing outside before the use of sunscreen became common, and she remembers getting sunburned.

So, the skin damage was likely done decades ago.

That’s why Loretta Tester also keeps an eye out for the second most common type of skin cancer -- Squamous Cell Carcinoma.

It usually looks like a scaly patch or red crusted area on the skin – a firm red nodule or a non-healing ulcer.

The third kind of skin cancer is the deadliest and most agressive – Melanoma.

Melanoma often develops in or near an existing mole. So, dermatologists recommend you use the ABCDE rules for identifying warning signs.

WARNING SIGNS OF MELANOMA

A – ASSYMETRY – If half the mole is unlike the other half, that could be a red flag.
B – BORDER – Irregular or poorly defined borders can also be an indicator of cancer.
C – COLOR – When one part of a mole is a different color or shade, tell your doctor.
D – DIAMETER – A mole larger than the size of a traditional pencil eraser is also a concern.
E – EVOLVING – If a mole or skin lesion starts to change or look different, see your dermatologist.

If skin cancer is not removed, it can be disfiguring -- even deadly.

The good news is skin cancers are the easiest cancers to treat if detected early.

The best defense is not getting a sunburn -- ever.

That’s another reason to make sure you and your children wear sunscreen early and often.

“When you’re putting on sunscreen, [remember] to put it on your ears, your lips, your upper chest, your neck, the back of the hands. These are commonly missed areas – even the scalp for men if you’re losing hair or even females if they lose hair," said Dr. D'Sa.

Some of her other sunscreen recommendations:

  • Apply about 20 minutes before you go out so it can “set in” to give you that protection
  • Look for the words “Broad spectrum” to protect you from UVA & UVB rays
  • Make sure the sunscreen is “water resistant” if you're planning to swim
  • Reapply every 80 minutes if you're in the water
  • Reapply every 1.5 to 2 hours if you're not in the water
  • Use about a teaspoon of sunscreen to cover your face
  • Use about a shot glass full of sunscreen for your body

“You want to go for at least an SPF 30 or higher," said Dr. D'Sa. “SPF 30 sunscreen will protect you against 97-percent of sun rays. If you go to an SPF of 50 – it [protects you from] about 98-percent of sun rays. And going higher does not help you much more because you can never protect yourself 100-percent against the sun.”

Wearing wide-brimmed hats and clothing can also help shield you from the sun.

Read more about sun protection guidelines from the Skin Cancer Foundation here.