Regular Screenings Key to Skin Cancer Prevention

Adam Friedman, associate professor of dermatology, talks about the signs of skin cancer and an upcoming free screening in Foggy Bottom.

Adam Friedman
Adam Friedman, GW associate professor of dermatology, says early detection is the best way to treat and manage skin cancer . (Photo: SMHS Communications and Marketing)
April 28, 2017

By Kristen Mitchell

With temperatures warming up and summer vacation around the corner, it’s important to keep best practices for healthy skin in mind. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, however, most types can be treated easily with early detection.

On Thursday, the George Washington University Cancer Center is hosting a free skin cancer screening for the GW community to stay on top of their skin health this spring. No insurance is needed and patients do not need to make an appointment. Screenings will be done by board certified dermatologists and dermatology residents.

Adam Friedman, associate professor of dermatology, spoke with GW Today about the signs of skin cancer and how people can best protect themselves as they spend more time in the sun this summer.

Q: What are the signs of skin cancer?
A: There are several forms of skin cancer, which include nonmelanoma and melanoma skin cancer, each with unique characteristics though all with some common threads: a growth that is changing over time; changes including size, shape, color, symmetry, quality (does it itch, hurt, burn). These can indicate something is not right. There are plenty of growths that are benign that can change over time, but it’s always best to confirm with a dermatologist rather than Dr. Google.

Q: Why is getting regular skin cancer screenings important?
A: The best approach to treating and managing skin cancer, especially melanoma, which is the deadliest form of skin cancer, is early detection. Annual full body skin cancer screenings allow your dermatologist to establish a baseline, get a feel for the moles and growths your skin likes to make, and then follow for change over time. The sooner a skin cancer is identified, the better the outcome is.

Q: What can people do to protect their skin as summer approaches?
A: Sun exposure is the No. 1 external cause of skin cancer (and accelerated skin aging). Apply sunblock with spf 30 or higher that is broad spectrum and water resistant,  20 minutes before going outside, and reapply every two hours to exposed areas or immediately after coming out of the water or toweling off. Sunscreen is not enough—you need a sun protection regimen. Wear protective clothing if possible and seek shade during peak hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.). Don't forget about your lips, which are even more sensitive to sunlight than your skin.

Q: How treatable is skin cancer?  
A: For basal and squamous cell carcinomas, nonmelanoma skin cancers, surgery is curative. The sooner you catch them, the easier to remove and (hopefully) the smaller the scar. Melanoma, when caught early, can also be removed with surgery, but if allowed to progress, unlike the nonmelanoma skin cancers, it can spread throughout the body and be extremely dangerous. We are in a very exciting time with respect to melanoma treatments, with a number of new drugs recently approved that are more targeted and effective than older medication, offering more hope to previously hopeless cases. The key, however, is to prevent getting to this point in the first place with proper skin care and skin cancer surveillance.

Q: There is a free upcoming screening at GW. What does that entail?
A: A skin cancer screening is a visual inspection of your skin by a medical professional. No blood work nor procedures are conducted at a screening. Screenings take approximately 15 minutes, including completing the paperwork and getting your skin checked. This is a rapid screening for skin cancer and should not replace or be a substitute for a yearly examination with your physician or dermatologist. If the dermatologist performing the screening raises some concern regarding a lesion on the exam, this will be documented in the skin cancer screening form, which will be provided to all participants. You will be instructed to see your dermatologist, and if you do not already have one, an appointment can be made at GW Dermatology at the conclusion of the visit.

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