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Knowing the warning signs of skin cancer and how to prevent it

Posted at 5:50 AM, May 04, 2023

(WXYZ) — May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, and it's a good time to remind you that skin cancer is America's most common cancer.

Many of you know I had surgery eight years ago to remove a basal cell carcinoma under my nose.

My dermatologist caught it during a regular skin check, so I'm here to encourage you to do the "skin check challenge."

Melissa Rose of Farmington Hills is currently healing from one skin cancer procedure and preparing for a second.

"When did you first notice something was irritating you on your scalp?" I asked.

"Going to my hairdresser, she would say, 'Melissa. You need to make an appointment with your dermatologist,'" Rose said.

She saw an irritated spot on Rose's head that was not healing. Rose said the area would get flaky and itchy.

About six months went by before she finally went to see her dermatologist for a biopsy.

"It's just the word cancer that throws you," Rose said. "It was scary. I mean, you know, but I thought, okay, worse things could happen.”

The good news is that nearly all skin cancers can be cured if found and treated early.

Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Emily Levin, the owner of Northwest Dermatology Center in Bingham Farms, diagnosed Rose's skin cancer. Dr. Levin said about 3.3- million people get skin cancer ever year.

"The three most common [types of skin cancer] are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma," Dr. Levin explained.

Basal cell accounts for 75%-80% of skin cancers. Squamous Cell is the second-most common, characterized by rough or reddish scaly areas.

Melanoma is considered the most serious because of its tendency to spread. Dr. Levin said you should look for unusual growths or changes in existing moles, even in nooks and crannies that don't get much sun. Rare cases can even pop up inside your body, such as your eyes, nose or throat.

"Early detection is absolutely critical, especially with melanoma. But even with basal cell and squamous cell, if we catch it early, [the treatment causes] much less disfigurement and, you know, anxiety and stress for the patient because it's a much smaller procedure to remove if we catch them really early," Dr. Levin said.

Dr. Ross Brothers performs the MOHS Micrographic surgeries to excise skin cancers.

"Most of the time we're doing Mohs on the neck, face, scalp, ears, a lot of times on the hands as well, and sometimes on the feet," Dr. Brothers said.

The best way to catch skin cancer is to schedule annual skin checks with your dermatologist.

"It's not something you want to do all the time. But, yeah, the full body check is very important," Rose said.

She said if you see a changing spot on your skin, don't wait to get it checked by your dermatologist. Rose will have her second MOHS surgery on May 25, and we wish her a speedy recovery.

Any sunburn before the age of 4 to about 18 can lead to skin cancer years later. Also, anyone can get skin cancer regardless of skin color.

To protect yourself, Dr. Levin said to wear sun-protective clothing and hats.
 
Also, wear SPF 30 or higher broadband protection sunscreen. That's the type that blocks both types of ultraviolent rays.

Apply your sunscreen 15 minutes before you go outside to give it time to absorb. Then reapply your sunscreen every one-to-two hours, especially after swimming or sweating.

Also, seek shade when you can.

The perfect amount of sunscreen is one ounce, about the size of a shot glass.