A couple years ago, Garden Oaks’ Sarah Cruise became concerned about a mole on her cheek. She’d had it for a long time, but it had started to hurt.
It turned out she was right to be concerned.
“I had a squamous cell carcinoma that had been removed from my face,” Cruise said. “Happy to say nothing since. They said (squamous cell carcinoma) is common for people with pale skin who live in sunny places. I go in now every year for a skin check. I’ve had something less serious removed on my leg.
A skin cancer health blog from Memorial Hermann Health System is a good reminder to stay vigilant as skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States.
“It can’t be emphasized enough the importance of examining your own skin for any changes,” said Dr. Elizabeth Geddes, a board-certified dermatologist in Austin who was formerly affiliated with Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center’s Dermatology & Laser Surgery Center and spoke to them in 2016 for the blog.
There are three main types of skin cancer. Squamous cell carcinoma is what Cruise had and occurs most often on the parts of the body which are exposed to the sun. It may look like a scaly red patch with irregular borders, and it may bleed. Basal cell carcinoma is more common. The moles are flatter and may have an uneven outline.
Melanoma is the most serious and can grow quickly. It may look like a regular mole, but irregular borders, a diameter of more than 7 millimeters and an atypical color are signs you should visit the doctor for a check-up.
Although melanoma is often a result of years in the sun, it can also occur in younger adults as Mary Ann Cromwell’s 20-year-old daughter, Clare, found out.
“When Clare was home Easter weekend she went to the dermatologist for her scalp and casually mentioned a mole on her arm,” Cromwell said. “The dermatologist removed the mole, and it came back positive for melanoma. It hasn’t yet gotten past top layer of skin.”
Clare will now go for more regular checkups and her two younger siblings will be screened, too.
“What if she hadn't gone to the dermatologist that day?” Cromwell wondered. “What if she didn't mention the mole during the visit?”
The Mayo Clinic offers a helpful reminder of the ABCs of skin health care and the types of moles to be concerned about:
• Asymmetrical shape: One half is unlike the other half
• Border: Notched, irregular or scalloped borders
• Color: Multiple colors, changes in color or uneven color
• Diameter: Larger than 1/4 inch
• Evolving: Change in size, shape, color or height, or new signs and symptoms, such as itchiness or bleeding
Any of those changes in a mole warrant a trip to the doctor.
Dr. Paul M. Friedman, a board-certified Houston dermatologist who is also on staff at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, said an SPF of 30 or higher applied 30 minutes prior to sun exposure is a necessary precaution.
He said that while UVA rays typically burn the superficial layers of the skin, UVB rays reach deep into the dermis, which is the skin’s thickest layer. The sun exposure doesn’t just age you prematurely, but also suppresses your immune system. This puts you at risk for skin cancer.
For those who haven’t been careful over the years, Geddes offers hope.
“Our bodies can heal because we have a good immune system and we often need to give it some help,” she said. “Remember, it is never too late. If you start taking precautions now, such as using sunscreen and wearing protective clothing, you can not only prevent further sun damage, (but) you can also reverse existing damage.”