How to Prevent Skin Cancer

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Dr. Henry Docherty, MBCLB, CCFP, FCFP, MMed, GP in Onclology, discusses things you can do to promote early detection and prevention of skin cancer.

Dr. Henry Docherty, MBCLB, CCFP, FCFP, MMed, GP in Onclology, discusses things you can do to promote early detection and prevention of skin cancer.

Video transcript

Featuring Dr. Henry Docherty, MBCLB, CCFP, FCFP, MMed, GP in Onclology

Duration: 3 minutes, 25 seconds

We know that cancer generally is common. In North America, cancer outpaced all other diseases and recently passed cardiovascular disease as the most common cancer.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer. We know from the Canadian cancer statistics in 2014 that skin cancer alone almost equaled the total of the big four cancers, that is lung, breast, colorectal and prostate cancer combined.

We know that anyone can get skin cancer and we know that as we get older, all of us have an increased risk of skin cancer, but certain people do have more risk of skin cancer. For instance, people with fair skin, fair hair, light eyes, who burn easily, are at risk. People who smoke cigarettes as with a lot of other forms of cancer are more at risk. People who use drugs that suppress the immune system, especially those who have had transplants are more at risk.

People who have had ionizing radiation early in life for certain forms of cancer treatment or to treat things like acne or psoriasis and also people who use tanning beds at an early age. In fact, the World Health Organization has increased the use of artificial tanning to its highest risk category alongside things like cigarette smoking, exposure to ionizing radiation, and exposure to industrial toxic chemicals.

We know that there are certain things that people can check for that might give them a clue to skin cancer. We learned in the 1990s about the ABCDEs. A stands for asymmetry, B for irregular border, C for colour change within a lesion. D for two things: one is diameter greater than six millimetres or a good way to remember that is greater than the size of a pencil eraser and also for dark. Any lesion that’s unusually dark.

And finally, E for evolution. Practically speaking, any lesion on the skin that is changing either in size, shape, thickness or colour and any lesion that becomes symptomatic where it has not been before. In other words, develops things like itching or bleeding, all of those are well worth getting checked.

There are a number of things that people can do themselves to reduce or prevent skin cancer. We all look at ourselves in the mirror every day so it’s easy if anything is new or changing. Some people have willing partners that they can engage in that exercise. Some people will use smartphones or take pictures of lesions on the skin, sometimes with a tape measure beside them, and then take serial pictures over time to see if anything is changing.

Nowadays, a lot of doctors are trained in dermoscopy which is a way of increasing what we can do with our naked eye by increasing our visualization of the color and structure within lesions and that helps us to be more or less reassured about how worrisome a lesion may be.

And finally there are some technologies available nowadays that allow us to map moles by taking total body photographs, and comparing those over time in a computer and also instruments that will allow us to individually analyze moles and tell us within seconds whether a mole is worrisome or not.

If at any time you notice a lesion on your skin which raises your concern, it’s a very good idea to have this assessed by your family physician or your local dermatologist.

Presenter: Dr. Henry Docherty, Family Doctor, Kelowna, BC

Local Practitioners: Family Doctor

This content is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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