Five Questions On Skin Cancer, Answered

A dermatologist does a skin cancer screening on a female patients arm

May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, a good time to spread awareness about the disease and the importance of screening and prevention.

With more than 5 million cases diagnosed each year, skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S.  It’s also one of the most preventable.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, about 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers and 85 percent of melanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun.

The American Cancer Society predicts about 99,780 new melanoma skin cancer cases (57,180 in men and 42,600 in women)  will be diagnosed in 2022, and 7,650 people (5,080 men and 2,570 women) will die from the disease.

Melanoma is less common than some other types of skin cancer, but more dangerous because it is more likely to spread to other parts of the body, if not detected and treated early.

Ramzi W. Saad, MD, a board certified dermatologist with South Shore Skin Center, answers some common questions about skin cancer causes and risk factors, prevention and treatment options.

When it comes to skin cancer prevention, how important are routine or annual screenings? 

Routine screenings cannot prevent skin cancers, but they are essential in early identification of skin cancers. Nearly all skin cancers are curable if caught early enough. That is the goal of routine screenings.

Your provider can determine the right schedule for routine visits for you.

A doctor checks the skin on a patient's neck

What kind of screening is available for skin cancer and at what age should people start being screened? 

Primary Care providers and dermatologists can screen patients for skin cancers in their offices and in May, through sponsorship from the American Academy of Dermatology some hospitals offer skin cancer screenings free to the public. Screening for skin cancers can begin in young adulthood.

What are some of the risk factors for skin cancer and preventative measures that can lower someone’s risk?

Risk factors for skin cancers are excessive sun exposure, a fair complexion, and a family history of melanoma.

Protection from excessive sun exposure is essential in preventing skin cancers.

Remember the phrase "Cover, cover, cover!" Cover your exposed skin with sunscreen (SPF 30 and full-spectrum Ultraviolet protection), cover your head with hats, your eyes with polarized sunglasses and your skin with sun-protective clothing, and choose the cover of shade – especially during the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. when the sun's rays are the strongest.

A mom applying sunscreen to her son's nose and face

What are some of the signs or symptoms of skin cancer that someone should be concerned about and discuss with their primary care provider or dermatologist?

New or changing flat, brown, or black spots should be reported to your doctor. Remember A (asymmetry), B (border irregularity), C (color variation), D (diameter), and E (evolving or changing).

Also pay attention to wounds that won't heal – these are some of the ways that early skin cancers present on the skin. 

What kind of treatment options are available for someone diagnosed with skin cancer?

If skin cancer is diagnosed, your dermatologist can guide you on the best way to manage it. Depending on the type and size of the cancer, treatments can include creams, freezing (cryotherapy) or surgery.

Skin Cancer Infographic

Ramzi W. Saad, MD is a board certified dermatologist with South Shore Skin Center and an Amonette Circle member of the Skin Cancer Foundation.  Learn more about skin cancer prevention.