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Spectrum Health offers free skin cancer screenings throughout May

Dr. Paul Wright is a surgical oncologist and Chief of Cutaneous Oncology at Spectrum Health. He spoke with us on how to protect yourself from skin cancer.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. Current estimates are that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. The American Academy of Dermatology estimates that approximately 9,500 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with skin cancer every day. 

Dr. Paul Wright is a surgical oncologist and Chief of Cutaneous Oncology at Spectrum Health. He identified those who are at risk of developing skin cancer.  

They are people who:

  • Spend a considerable amount of time working or playing in the sun.
  • Get easily sunburned; have a history of sunburns.
  • Live in a sunny or high-altitude climate.
  • Tan or use tanning beds.
  • Have light-colored eyes, blond or red hair and fair or freckled skin.
  • Have many moles or irregular-shaped moles.
  • Have actinic keratosis (precancerous skin growths that are rough, scaly, dark pink-to-brown patches).
  • Have a family history of skin cancer.
  • Have had an organ transplant.
  • Take medications that suppress or weaken your immune system.
  • Have been exposed to ultraviolet light therapy for treating skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis. (Source: Cleveland Clinic)

Dr. Wright said there are some basic protective measures everyone should follow:

  • Seek shade when appropriate, remembering that the sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. If your shadow is shorter than you are, seek shade.
  • Wear sun-protective clothing, such as a lightweight and long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses with UV protection, when possible. For more effective sun protection, select clothing with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) label.
  • Apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Broad-spectrum sunscreen provides protection from both UVA and UVB rays.
  • Use sunscreen whenever you are going to be outside, even on cloudy days.
  • Remember to apply sunscreen to all exposed areas, including the tops of your feet, your neck, your ears, and the top of your head.
  • When outdoors, reapply sunscreen every two hours, and sooner after swimming or sweating.
  • Avoid tanning beds. Ultraviolet light from tanning beds can cause skin cancer and premature skin aging. (Source: American Academy of Dermatology)

Dr. Wright identified the various types of skin cancer. He said Basal and Squamous Cell skin cancer are often found in the areas that are highly exposed to the sun, such as the head, neck and arms. You may also find it in other places as well. This skin cancer is very treatable.

Basal and Squamous Cell Melanoma is a less common, but more aggressive skin cancer. And finally, Dr. Wright said Merkel Cell skin cancer is an uncommon type of skin cancer that causes cells to grow uncontrollably. He advised vigilance when it comes to the skin. Always knowing the patterns of moles, blemishes, freckles and other marks on your skin to watch for changes is important. Having a regular skin exam is also important for people who are at high risk of skin cancer. If you notice changing in size, shape or color, you should talk with your doctor.

As for treatment, Dr. Wright said the main objective is to remove all the cancerous cells. He said treatments will vary based on the type of cancer and the cancer’s stage of development. Among the possible treatments are:

  • Simple excision: The tumor, along with some of the normal tissue around it, is cut from the skin.
  • Mohs micrographic surgery in which the cancerous tissue is cut from the skin in thin layers. During the procedure, the edges of the tumor and each layer of tumor removed are viewed through a microscope to check for cancer cells. Layers continue to be removed until no more cancer cells are seen.
  • Shave excision: The abnormal area is shaved off the surface of the skin with a small blade.
  • Curettage and electrodesiccation during which the tumor is cut from the skin with a curette (a sharp, spoon-shaped tool). A needle-shaped electrode is then used to treat the area with an electric current that stops the bleeding and destroys cancer cells that remain around the edge of the wound.
  • Cryosurgery is a treatment that uses an instrument to freeze and destroy abnormal tissue, such as carcinoma in situ. This type of treatment is also called cryotherapy.
  • Laser surgery that uses a laser beam (a narrow beam of intense light) as a knife to make bloodless cuts in tissue or to remove a surface lesion such as a tumor.
  • Dermabrasion which is removal of the top layer of skin using a rotating wheel or small particles to rub away skin cells.
  • Radiation, chemotherapy, or immunotherapy may be necessary for advanced cases of skin cancer or when patients are unable to have surgery. (Source: National Cancer Institute)

Spectrum Health is offering free skin cancer screenings May 24-26 at their regional locations. Walk-ins only — there is no appointment necessary. The SPOTme® skin cancer screening is a visual inspection of your uncovered skin and will be completed by a medical professional. These are not full body screenings. Attendees will be asked to share an area of concern with participating dermatologists. No blood work is needed. If a follow-up appointment is recommended, medical professionals will provide additional education and referral information. 

Questions and for location information, contact 616-267-2049.

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