Health Features

Facing the Facts of Face Cancer

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the country. SLUCare dermatologist Dr. Sofia Chaudhry says that 1 in 5 Americans will be diagnosed in their lifetime, and people of all skin colors are at risk. It can show up anywhere on the body, especially the face, which receives maximum sun exposure if not protected. “The good news is that the majority of cases are curable if caught early,” she notes. “That’s why it’s important to keep your eyes open and pay attention to your skin.”

basal cell carcinoma
According to the American Cancer Society, more than 80% of skin cancer cases are basal cell carcinoma. It often occurs in areas that receive the most sun exposure, like the face and neck. Chaudhry says basal cells have different presentations. “They can be raised, flat or depressed like an indentation,” she explains. “The cancer tends to be slow-growing, but if you have a new spot or growth that is not going away, you’ll want to get it checked.”

What to look for: A pink spot that looks shiny or pearly

squamous cell carcinoma
Squamous cells are located in the middle or outer layers of the skin. Actinic keratosis is a type of precancerous lesion that can turn into squamous cell carcinoma. “It is common in sun-exposed areas and looks gritty or scaly,” Chaudhry notes. “It’s important to treat it early before it becomes a bigger concern.” These lesions are often the result of exposure to ultraviolet radiation from sunlight or tanning beds.

What to look for: A pink patch that is consistently scaly or bumpy, or an open sore that doesn’t heal

“Melanoma is one of the most deadly forms of skin cancer,” Chaudhry says. “It can occur anywhere, even places that don’t get sun exposure. You want to look over your body from head to toe. If there is an area that is difficult to see, use a mirror or ask a friend or family member to help.” She recommends this helpful mnemonic device for catching signs of melanoma:

the abcede’s of melanoma
Asymmetry: Half of a spot doesn’t match the other.
Border: The spot has an irregular border.
Color: The spot is uneven in color, is multiple colors or changes color.
Diameter: The spot is larger than the size of a pencil eraser.
Evolving: There are visible changes over time.

protect your skin
“We’re seeing more skin cancer in young adults, and it’s known that just one blistering sunburn in youth can increase your risk for melanoma,” Chaudhry says. “It’s important to wear sunscreen and avoid tanning beds.”

sunscreen musts
» Use SPF 30 or higher.
» Wear broad spectrum (protects against both UVA and UVB rays)
face lotion and/or foundation—even in cooler months!
» In summer, reapply every two hours.
» To protect lips, often forgotten, choose lip balm with sunscreen.
» Don’t forget to apply SPF on your ears.

other protection
» Wear a broad-brimmed hat to shield neck, face and scalp.
» Avoid the sun during the peak hours of midday.
» Wear sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection.