For skin cancer awareness month, dermatologist Max Adler offers his advice for what sunworshippers need to know. Lesson one: Don’t do it
How’s this for irony: We like to describe bronzed skin as having "a healthy glow," but in reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Tanning actually damages the skin. Gay men and women who want to look their best are actually setting themselves up for disappointment in the future: Premature crow’s-feet and wrinkles, even skin cancer.
With May being Skin Cancer Awareness Month, Max Adler, M.D., with Park Cities Dermatology offered some information — and advice — for what you need to know before you glow.
Park Cities Dermatology, 8226 Douglas Ave., Suite 540. 214-692-7447.
Q. What are the different kinds of skin cancer (melanoma, carcinoma, etc.), and what should everyone know about them (degree of dangerousness)?
A. There are three different types of skin cancer: melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma. Melanoma is the most lethal — this is the on that can metastasize. Statistics show that one person dies every hour in the U.S. from melanoma. The more common types of skin cancer BCC and SCC occur at a rate of at least 1.5 million each year in the US. And even SCC can metastasize, with about 10,000 deaths per year.
Q. What are the most frequent causes of skin cancer?
A. The most frequent causes of skin cancer are sun exposure, sunburns and tanning beds. A history of dysplastic nevi and family history of skin cancer can also contribute. Skin cancers are also associated with light-colored skin, hair and eyes, although darker skinned people are not immune. Melanoma can occur in darker skin tones, and in African-Americans it occurs most commonly on the hands, feet and under the nails.
Q. How can you spot skin cancer as opposed to a mere mole, birthmark, blemish, etc.?
A. One can differentiate a possible problem from a birthmark or mole by looking for change. Look for anything that changes size, shape or color, or which itches or bleeds.
Q. What are the treatments for skin cancer once you have discovered it?
A. The treatments for skin cancer vary. Pre-cancers can be healed with a liquid nitrogen treatment; there are also several topical creams that are quite effective. Basal cell carcinomas can be treated by a procedure called electrodessication and curettage. Some BCC can be treated with a cream, some need to be excised. The same treatments are available for SCC as well.
Melanoma is always a bad actor. It always needs to be excised, and depending on the depth, we sometimes need to look at lymph nodes surgically. The key here is early detection. The difference between life and death is the width of a credit card. Melanomas always start off thin, and the longer they are left, the deeper they grow. The deep ones are when you have to start investigating lymph nodes and possible chemotherapy. If it is caught early (a thin lesion), surgical excision is all that is needed with close routine follow-up skin checks.
Q. What are the most common mistakes people make when going out into the sun or using tanning beds?
A. The most common mistake people make is thinking that there is a safe tan. There is no safe tan! This is your body’s reaction to an injury from ultraviolet radiation. Sunburns are, obviously, worse. Even four to five bad sunburns as a child will triple your risk for melanoma.
Q. What are the best precautions you can take to prevent skin cancer from occurring?
A. The best precaution for preventing skin cancer is to stay out of the sun. Tanning beds are even worse. These beds expose you to ultra high doses of UVA [as opposed to UVB], which is linked with a higher chance of melanoma. This is also a high dose of the most wrinkle-causing and photo-aging rays!
Q. Even if problems do not arise to the skin cancer level, what advice would you give people for taking care of their skin to keep it remaining as healthy as possible as they age?
A. I always say that Retin-A at night and sunscreen in the morning are as comparable to the skin as brushing your teeth. There is no better skin regimen than this. My favorite sunscreen is Neutrogena with helioplex — they make an oily skin formula and one that is formulated for drier skins. I also recommend Olay Definity Deep Penetrating Foaming UV Moisturizer (fragrance free).
Q. What’s the most important think to impress on people about skin care?
A. The take home message is get to know your skin. You are your own best dermatologist. Look for changes in your skin — that is the key. Something may look benign to me, but if my patient says that something is changing, I take them seriously, and the lesion is biopsied.