dermatologist doctor inspecting woman skin for moles and melanoma. DepositPhotos 1500x1027
Image Source: DepositPhotos

Editor’s Note:

One in every three cancers diagnosed is a skin cancer. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, one in every five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. Knowledge is power and in the medical field, often knowledge means prevention and/or early detection. To give our readers access to the best fact-based information, we are debuting a new skin cancer compilation with a series of articles written by an acclaimed dermatologist, Dr. Fayne Frey, who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer.  

This first introductory article discusses skin cancer in general. In subsequent articles, we will highlight different types of skin cancer. Most skin cancer articles emphasize Basal Cell Cancer, Squamous Cell Cancer, and Melanomas, so many folks think that those are the only types of skin cancer.  In this series, we will highlight lesser known skin cancers in addition to the “infamous three.” 

Anna Villarreal
Women’s Health Editor

How do I know if I have skin cancer?

I walked into the exam room and noticed Peggy, an overweight blond, blue-eyed, middle-aged Irish women, wrapped in a blue paper gown. She was sweating profusely. After a brief greeting she blurted out, “I think I have skin cancer.”  She felt perfectly fine otherwise. She had no pain or itching. Peggy was convinced she was joining the ranks of her older sister, father, and maternal grandfather, all of whom had been diagnosed with some form of skin cancer in the past.

Later, that same day, Tina, a young brunette Wall Street trader also visited the office with concerns that she had skin cancer. She noticed a new brown colored growth on her right upper leg. She admitted to having been a tanning bed addict as a teenager, that she loved the sun and suffered many a sunburn as a child. In addition, Tina confessed that she never used sunscreen, well almost never, except for the small amount that might have been present in some of her makeup.

With the help of Google, Tina matched her mind’s image of her growth with a photo of a biopsy-proven skin cancer she found on the Internet. She couldn’t think of anything else since she noticed that harmless appearing pencil eraser-sized growth several weeks ago and self-diagnosed her skin cancer and not just any cancer, but malignant melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer.

Tina was unable to concentrate at work.  By her own admission, she spent hours ruminating over the possibility of surgery, chemotherapy, and ultimately, not being around for her 36th birthday.

One in five Americans is expected to develop skin cancer

One in five Americans is expected to develop skin cancer in their lifetime.  And anyone can get it, regardless of skin color.

Fortunately, skin cancer is one of the easiest cancers to diagnosis, and, if found early, to treat. Because they are almost always visible on the skin, if the person is looking for changes, they are likely to find a skin cancer early. Moral of the story: do self-examinations monthly.

Skin cancer can occur anywhere on the body, so be thorough. Check the nails, between the toes, and inside your mouth. Use a hand mirror to check hard to see areas, including your back and private places. When shampooing, feel around the scalp and glimpse through the hair.

If you find a new growth or a wound that isn’t healing (and I wouldn’t wait more than 2 or 3 weeks to see if that wound goes away on its own), if you find a spot on your skin that looks different than everything else, if you see a change in an existing mole or birthmark, if you discover an area of skin that scales, bleeds, turns red, or changes in any way (size, shape or color), make an appointment with a dermatologist. You’ve done your job. Found early, skin cancer, even melanoma, is very treatable. As for Peggy and Tina, happy to announce, neither were diagnosed with skin cancer.

So, if you find a new growth on your body how do you know if it is skin cancer? Simple answer, you don’t.  The average layperson does not know how to diagnose skin cancer, nor are you expected to. But it is your job to help find it!

Fayne Frey, MD
Fayne Frey, M.D., is a board-certified clinical and surgical dermatologist practicing in West Nyack, New York, where she specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer. She is a nationally recognized expert in the effectiveness and formulation of over-the-counter skincare products, and, as a speaker, has captivated audiences with her wry observations regarding the skincare industry. She has consulted for numerous media outlets, including NBC, USA Today, and, the Huffington Post, and has shared her expertise on both cable and major TV outlets. Dr. Frey is the Founder of FryFace.com, an educational skincare information and product selection service website that clarifies and simplifies the overwhelming choice of effective, safe and affordable products encountered in the skincare aisles. Dr. Frey is a graduate of the Weill Cornell Medical College and is a fellow of both the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery.

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