Category Archives: Skin Cancer

Couples Can Learn to Check for Suspicious Moles on Each Other

We recently ran across this article about checking suspicious moles on your spouse from the Chicago Tribune and it led to me thinking about how we do it.

When I check a patient’s skin for suspicious moles, I am looking for a lesion that does not look like all of the other moles on the body.  It may have a different color, or a different border.  It may be much larger than other spots on the skin or it may appear to have bled recently.

Sometimes I will see an area that isn’t well defined but is red and flaky.  Any of these attributes may make a lesion suspicious in my mind.

If my patients were to notice any of these things on their skin or their partner’s skin, it would be worth mentioning it to me or to their regular physician.


Australia Trip Offers a Reminder to Wear Sunscreen

kangarooMy wife, Nancy, and I traveled to Australia at the beginning of June where I had the opportunity to present some of my recent laser results at a plastic surgery symposium. We found the Australians to be extraordinarily friendly people who smile, drink and swear with regularity.

Prior to the conference, we visited a Koala sanctuary (they don’t do much) and made friends with a Kangaroo gang.  I can also report that Australians are both interested in and mystified by our presidential election politics.  Their election season for prime minister lasts all of two months.  Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

sun-soundAustralians have by far the world’s highest rate of melanoma skin cancer.  I saw an interesting sign by Manly Beach near Sydney reminding everyone to reapply sunscreen every hour when they hear the “sun sound.”  I never actually heard the sound (as it is now winter down under), but I thought it was an excellent message to pass along here at home.  Don’t forget to reapply that sunscreen this summer while you enjoy the beautiful Pacific Northwest!

Sunscreen Ed: SPF Does Not Tell The Whole Story

sunscreen-smPatients often ask us to explain the differences in sunscreens with higher SPF ratings to those with lower. Many assume the higher the rating the greater protection from the sun and its ultraviolet radiation, exposure to which can lead to skin cancer as well as premature aging and eye damage. The answer, of course, is a little more complicated.

Let’s start with SPF. It stands for Sun Protection Factor and asserts that if you are wearing a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 you can stay in the sun 15 times longer than you could without it. Generally, a 15 SPF sunscreen blocks 93 percent of harmful rays, while a 30 SPF blocks 97 percent and 50 blocks 98 percent. But what’s a safe amount of time to be in the sun unprotected? That, too, is not an easy question to answer, as it depends on the time of day (the hours between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. are the worst), your skin type, your clothing and the time of year. Suffice it to say, it’s best to limit exposure to direct sunlight.

The dangers of direct and repeated exposure to the sun comes from its ultraviolet radiation, which arrives in the form of waves. Two classifications of those waves, UVA rays and UVB rays, are what we try to block. UVA rays are long wave rays that penetrate deeply into your skin, break down collagen and elastin. UVA rays cause premature aging and can lead to long-lasting damage. UVB rays are short waves, don’t penetrate as deeply, but can burn the outer layers of your skin. Both rays are dangerous and are linked to skin cancer.

Knowing this, it’s critical that you look for sunscreens that you will be willing to wear all the time and those that offer protection from both types of rays. These often are marketed as broad-spectrum sunscreens.

anthelios-sxWe recommend is that you wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a 15-50 SPF and that you wear it on all exposed skin. More important than SPF is that you re-apply the sunscreen regularly, as all sunscreens wear off relatively quickly.

We carry an award-winning sunscreen called Anthelios. This moisturizer and unscreen combo is non-acnegenic with 24-hour hydration. It is a light, oil free formula rich in selenium and is perfect for those who need a long lasting moisturizer with broad spectrum protection. Anthelios is 20 percent off the remainder of June.

Skin Cancer 101: Three Main Types To Look For

People frequently ask what exactly I do as a plastic surgeon, and they are surprised to discover that I spend about 20% of my time treating skin cancer. Since most skin cancers are treated by surgically removing them, it makes perfect sense that a plastic surgeon would be involved in these cases.

Most patients who come in for a skin check actually have benign or pre-cancerous lesions rather than actual skin cancers. They have fancy medical names like actinic keratosis or seborrheic keratosis and are usually treated with freezing or topical creams. True skin cancers fall into three main categories:

  1. By

    Basal Cell Carcinoma. Photo By James Heilman, MD.

    Basal Cell Carcinoma is the most common skin cancer we see, and has a red, shiny appearance, often with a small central ulceration or depression. It has very clear borders typically. This cancer grows slowly and is seen on sun-exposed areas of the body. It essentially never spreads to other parts of the body but can come back in the same area if not completely removed.

  2. Squamous Cell Carcinoma looks more like a “sore” or “scrape” with irregular borders and often some scabbing. It usually appears relatively flat and is also on the sun-exposed areas of the body in most patients. Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the skin can spread to other organs although this is relatively rare. Again, the treatment involves complete surgical removal. To see photos, click here.
  3. Melanoma is the third major type of skin cancer and can show up anywhere on the body, not just the sun-exposed areas. It often looks like a flat or slightly raised mole with irregular borders and a mix of colors including brown, black or pink. We are very aggressive in removing melanoma because it most certainly can spread to other parts of the body, and proves rather resistant to treatment once it does. People with a family history of melanoma or a bad sunburn in childhood are at increased risk for developing a melanoma as compared to the general population. To see sample photos, go here or here.

If you have any questions about a particular mole or skin lesion, please do come in for a skin check. Insurance covers skin cancer screening and treatment, and sooner is definitely better than later in this case!