Here are some frequently asked questions related to skin cancer.
Q: My husband was treated for small skin cancers on his forearms. The
A: The doctor was just being realistic.
Q: I've been referred to a dermatologist by my family doctor. She thinks that a growth on my back may be skin cancer. If it is skin cancer, what questions should I ask the dermatologist?
A: It's important to ask questions and work with the doctor in planning treatment and follow-up care. Start the dialogue by asking about the exact kind of skin cancer you have, how serious it is, and whether to be concerned that the cancer has spread. Some other important questions include:
- What is the usual treatment?
- Will treatment cure the cancer?
- What type of scar will likely develop?
- How will I know if the cancer has come back?
- How often will I come back for follow-up care?
- What can I do to reduce my risk of getting skin cancer again?
Q: As I get older, I seem to be developing more and more moles, freckles, and other skin growths. I'm worried that some may be skin cancer, or change into skin cancer. What professional and self care would you recommend?
A: Encourage your primary care physician to do a total skin examination at each yearly routine physical examination and/or see a dermatologist yearly for a total body skin examination. That involves inspecting every inch of your skin, including the genital region and the area between the buttocks. If the doctor spots suspicious growths, you'll probably get a referral to a dermatologist. Chances are good that these professional exams will put your mind at ease. That's because most people have dozens of skin growths, and they usually are not cancer. Once you know that your skin is normal, get in the habit of doing a skin self-examination to watch for new growths or changes in existing growths.
Q: How can I tell if a skin growth is dangerous? Is there any special appearance that I should watch for?
A: Only a doctor can tell between a
- Bigger from edge to edge than a pencil eraser
- Have uneven or ragged edges
- Show combinations of more than one color
- Have a different appearance on one half than on the other
Those are warning signs of possible skin cancer. Check with the doctor if they occur.
Q: The doctor on a radio talk show advised a man with skin cancer to see a "
A: The talk show doctor probably was discussing
Q: What is the best way of preventing skin cancer?
A: Avoid too much exposure to the sun. That's the No. 1 cause of skin cancer. Try to avoid two kinds of exposure:
- The kind of constant day-to-day exposure that occurs in people who work outdoors or enjoy outdoor sports or leisure activities.
- Less-frequent but more intense exposure that causes sun burn. Vacationers and others who get intense sun exposure a few times a year may be at high risk for
malignant melanoma, the most serious kind of skin cancer.
When you are in the sun, wear tightly woven clothing that shields the skin. A broad-brimmed hat is ideal in the summer. Be sure to use a "broad-spectrum" sun screen that protects again both kinds of ultraviolet (UV) light, UVA and UVB.
Q: If skin cancer occurs mainly in older people, why is it so important for children to avoid getting too much sun?
A: Childhood sun exposure may set the stage for adult skin cancer. The average person gets about 50% of his or her total lifetime sun exposure by age 18. Most severe sun burns also occur during childhood and adolescence. A single severe sunburn may increase an individual's risk of skin cancer.
Q: After examining my skin, the family doctor said I have the warning signs of skin cancer. He said to be especially careful about avoiding excessive sun, get regular check-ups, and to do regular skin self-examinations. How could he tell?
A: The doctor probably discovered actinic keratoses, a pre-cancerous condition caused by long-term overexposure to the sun. An