Soaking up the sun can feel harmless, especially when you’re lying by the beach or spending time with friends and family outdoors. But when they’re caught up in the fun, many people forget to consider the negative effects the sun can have on their skin. Unprotected exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet, or UV, rays is one of the leading causes of skin cancer, the most common cancer in the U.S.
The two main groups of skin cancer are nonmelanoma cancers, basal and squamous cell carcinoma; and melanoma cancers, which are less common but more aggressive. Each year, between 2 and 3 million people are affected by nonmelanoma cancers, and about 132,000 people are affected by melanoma cancers. According to Mark Leyngold, M.D., a plastic surgeon at UF Health Plastic Surgery and Aesthetics Center, each type of cancer can look very different.
“The most common signs of skin cancer are any abnormal bumps, moles or discolored spots that linger,” said Kathryn Hitchcock, M.D., Ph.D., a radiation oncologist at UF Health Radiation Oncology.
Other warning signs include rapid skin lesion growth, irregular borders, bleeding or pain, according to Leyngold. It’s important to stay alert of these warning signs because treating early detected skin cancers is much easier than the treatment process for cancers that have progressed over time.
Skin cancer is often identified by a primary care provider or dermatologist, where a sample is taken of the suspicious area and sent for lab testing. If the sample tests positive, surgical removal is used to initially treat the cancer.
“After surgery, a multidisciplinary team reviews the pathology to discuss the next steps for the patient,” Hitchcock said, “In some cases, we identify perineural invasion, which is when cancer cells use the nerves as a highway to attack other parts of the body.”
If the team sees perineural invasion or a similar spread of cancer cells, the patient will need more treatment, typically radiation therapy to attack the cancer. Even if the initial surgery removes all signs of the cancer cells, some patients will need additional reconstructive surgery using skin grafts or flaps to completely repair the affected area.
At UF Health, our specialists work together to ensure every patient is provided with the best method of care. While skin cancer can create a difficult journey for those affected, there are many steps you can take to reduce your risk.
“Everyone should be protecting their skin with at least SPF 30 or greater when spending time in the sun,” Leyngold said. “But sun exposure should be limited. It’s especially important to avoid tanning beds at all costs.”
In addition to limiting exposure to UV rays, visiting your dermatologist at least once a year is recommended to help detect any possible signs or symptoms of skin cancer. UF Health Dermatology identifies and treats a full spectrum of skin conditions for general adult and pediatric patients, and serves as one of the most comprehensive dermatology practices in North Florida.