Early signs of skin cancer

By Britney Glaser - bio | email

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - The American Academy of Dermatology estimates at least one million people in the U.S. develop skin cancer every year. But would you even know what to look for when it comes to your skin?

77-year-old Roy Harris grew up in the warm Florida sun - something that began leaving its mark on his face and body decades later.  "I guess I was 40 years old before it started breaking out," he says, "and I had a spot on my forehead and then from there, it went all over me."

Harris had what dermatologists call "pre-cancerous lesions" developing from his scalp to lower back around age 40 and it is something he is still being treated for today.  Dr. Maureen Olivier with Lake Charles Medical and Surgical Clinic says, "It's not a one time thing, but if we can catch them in this phase, then possibly we could avoid further surgery."

Dr. Olivier says there are several types of skin changes that should alert a person about a potential for skin cancer. The first is called actinic keratosis - small, scaly patches.  "We see the crust and it's produced by these abnormal cells, which over the years have lost their ability to function properly," says Dr. Olivier.

More advanced is squamos cell carcinoma, followed by the most common skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma. The most serious of all is melanoma.

The severity of Harris' lesions led to dozens of procedures to freeze or remove irregularities in the skin.  "I had a graft done on my throat," he says, "from cutting out the lowest part of my ear."

If caught early enough, Dr. Olivier says cryosurgery, or freezing with liquid nitrogen, can halt the production of cancerous cells.  "It sloughs off the lesion and gives way to new, pink skin," she says.

It is also important to know your risk factors for skin cancer. If you are light-skinned with light hair, you need to slather on extra sunscreen each day.  Even if you have a darker complexion, you should use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 with protection from both UV A/B rays.

*Dr. Olivier also suggests examining your skin after a shower while it's still wet and to check for potential problem areas once a month.

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