Local Board-Certified Dermatologist and Mohs Surgeon, Dr. Jennifer Hanson, Answers Our Top Skin Cancer Questions

In 2008, the Union for International Cancer Control declared February 4th as World Cancer Day. Since then, the mission has been to increase worldwide awareness of cancer: prevention, detection, and treatment. According to The Skin Cancer Foundation, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70. Board-Certified Dermatologist and Fellowship-Trained Mohs Surgeon Jennifer Hanson, M.D. will be answering your top concerns about skin cancer and treatments.

Q: What is skin cancer?

Skin cancer is an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the skin, which typically arise from damaging ultraviolet rays. Many people are unaware that there are more skin cancers in our population than all other cancers combined. With an estimated one in five Americans developing skin cancer in their lifetime, it is important to know that skin cancer does not go away on its own, and if left untreated, it can grow and spread.

Q: What types of skin cancer exist?

There are several types of skin cancer, and their incidence is on the rise. The three most common are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Melanoma is more likely to grow and spread to surrounding tissues and/or to other parts of the body.

Q: Tell us a little about habits we can create to help prevent skin cancer.

Prevention with sun protection, which can come in a variety of forms, is key. Other things to keep in mind:

Seek shade when outside and avoid being out between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun’s rays are strongest.

When outside, cover any exposed skin with a broad-spectrum sunscreen which will protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Ensure the SPF is at least 30 or higher. Reapply sunscreen every two hours or after swimming. Do not skimp on the amount you use, either - adults need at least a shot glass size full of sunscreen for proper application. Make sure to protect areas like the top of your ears, and the back of your neck, and use lip balm with SPF 30 or more to protect your lips.

I am a big fan of photoprotective clothing. Look for long sleeve shirts and pants with a UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) label. If you drive frequently or for long periods of time, gloves, and sleeves with UPF are also available to protect your hands and arms. Using a broad-brimmed hat can help protect your face and sunglasses will protect your eyes.

Be sure to use SPF protection and photoprotective clothing even in cloudy weather and the winter months.

Keep in mind that water, sand, and snow increase your chance of sunburn since they reflect the sun’s rays.

Avoid tanning beds – remember, a tan is a sign that your skin has suffered damage, and it does not differentiate between the sun and other forms of artificial ultraviolet rays.

Visit your dermatology provider regularly. They are experts in skin cancer diagnosis and treatment. With early detection and treatment, most skin cancers can be cured.

Q: Children and adolescents account for up to 4% of melanoma cancer. At what age should kids begin using sunscreen and how can we best protect them against UV rays?

Due to the sensitivity of an infant’s delicate skin, the earliest recommended age to start sunscreen use is six months. Babies under six months should be kept out of direct sunlight and be protected by proper clothing and a wide-brimmed hat. Once your baby is six months and older, you can start using sunscreen. Look for mineral-based sunscreens that consist of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide which work immediately when applied to the skin and are less likely to cause skin irritation than chemical sunscreens. 

Q: Drugstore sunscreen makes me break out and irritates my skin. Are there other sunscreen options?

Most drug store sunscreens should not cause breakouts. Breakouts caused by sunscreens are usually related to two factors: one, the sunscreen may contain oils that clog pores or, two it may contain an ingredient that causes irritation or an allergic reaction resulting in a rash. To minimize the chance of a breakout, look for sunscreens that are oil-free. If you are experiencing a rash to a particular sunscreen, try switching to an alternate sunscreen or see your dermatologist for recommendations. There are a host of great sunscreens to try. Some of my favorite brands at a moderate price point include Neutrogena®, CeraVe, Aveeno®, Coppertone®, and Blue Lizard. At a higher price point, I like the sunscreens from La Roche-Posay®, EltaMD®, Revision Skincare and SkinCeuticals®. 

Q: I have been diagnosed with skin cancer, what are my treatment options?

The first step is to see a board-certified dermatologist to determine the most appropriate treatment for your type of skin cancer. The recommended treatment will depend on several factors, including the stage of the tumor at diagnosis and treatment may differ depending on the location of the tumor.

For operable tumors in higher-risk sites and areas where skin conservation is critical, such as the head and neck region, a specialized surgery called Mohs Surgery, may be recommended. Mohs Surgery is microscopically precise in removing the cancerous cells while sparing as much of the healthy tissue as possible.

In other cases, an excisional procedure may be performed, where diseased tissue and a margin of normal skin are removed to ensure all the cancer is gone.

For certain superficial cancers, a procedure called electrodesiccation and curettage can be performed where the tumor cells are destroyed via scraping and an electric needle that causes thermal injury. Some superficial skin cancers can also be treated with topical chemotherapy creams.

Sun4About Our Medical Provider

Dr. Hanson grew up in New Jersey, just outside of Manhattan. After graduating from Columbia University, she completed her medical training, dermatology residency, and a fellowship in Mohs micrographic surgery and dermatologic oncology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. After years of living in colder climates, Dr. Hanson is delighted to be part of our Austin community. Dr. Hanson is passionate about practicing medicine, traveling, trying new food, exercising, and interior design. Family time with her young daughter, husband, and two little dogs revitalizes her.

Since 2007, we have served our Central Texas community's dermatological needs with best-in-class experts, including Board-Certified Dermatologists, Fellowship-Trained Mohs Surgeons, and Licensed Aestheticians. Visit VitalogySkincare.com to learn more about our medical, cosmetic, and surgical services. We offer online appointment booking for your convenience.

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