Skin Cancer – What You Need to Know

As a dermatologist, I see a range of issues in my clinic every day. Unfortunately, one that I see very often is skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer worldwide, and is particularly prevalent in Canada. It’s also one of the easiest to cure if detected early. This is why taking preventative measures and getting your skin checked regularly by a dermatologist is particularly effective at maintaining good health!

Here are a few things I think everyone should know about skin cancer:

Skin cancer is dangerous, melanoma is deadly

Like many cancers, skin cancer starts as precancerous (not cancerous) lesions but can become cancerous over time. These come in many forms, from rough discolored skin to abnormal moles. However, skin cancer is generally recognized in two distinct categories: non-melanoma and melanoma.

The majority of skin cancers are non-melanoma. While malignant, this type is unlikely to spread to other parts of the body and mostly leads to a local disfigurement of the skin when not treated early. The other category, melanoma, is dangerous and extremely aggressive and can spread to other parts of the body. If treated late, the cancer has the chance to spread to more areas, becomes harder to treat, and can be fatal.

Genetics and family history play a big role

Family history plays an important part in skin cancer risk, especially in cases involving melanoma. About 1 in 10 patients diagnosed with the disease has a close relative with a history of melanoma. If this is your case, you should pay close attention to your skin for any abnormalities and get checked by a dermatologist on a regular basis.

In terms of specific genetic traits, it likely won’t be surprising to hear that skin tone is an important factor. Those with lighter skin are at higher risk of being affected by skin cancer. Those with darker skin tones, however, are more affected by severe, advanced stages of skin cancer, because abnormalities often go undetected until later stages.

Be smart with UV light

Did you know that 90% of skin cancers are caused by sun exposure? While the sun is a potential source of vitamin D, it’s pretty clear that the risks outweigh the benefits. You can also get Vitamin D from foods such as milk, orange juice, salmon, eggs, and tuna.

It should be noted that sunscreen is not a perfect protector. The best way to protect your skin is to cover up with clothing, to generously apply and re-apply sunscreen on exposed areas, and to avoid exposure at peak hours when the sun’s rays are most direct and powerful. While this may seem daunting, being mindful of your habits will allow your skin to age more gracefully and greatly reduce your risk of developing skin lesions that can turn into dangerous forms of cancer.

Treatment is harsh, prevention is better

For melanoma cases, the treatment can range from a simple removal of the affected area to surgery and chemotherapy if it has spread. While getting cancer can happen to anyone, the stage at which you develop that cancer depends heavily on your preventative measures. The only way to reduce the risk is to periodically check your skin for any new or abnormal skin lesions, from darker patches of skin to moles, and to get checked regularly by an experienced dermatologist.

If you decide to book an appointment with me and my team at the MunkMD Dermatology Clinic, rest assured that you will be in good hands with some of the most mindful and passionate medical professionals in Montreal. We not only offer a full skin check-up, we can also test any abnormal skin lesions for potential cancerous cells and remove them while they are in their earliest phase.

I believe our skin is the most important organ in the body, from determining our overall appearance to protecting the rest of our bodies from the pathogens that surround us. Take good care of it!

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