Issue No. 12
More than Skin DeepDate: April 21, 2011
Cancer doesn’t care about the color of your skin, so make sure to get an easy and painless annual screening
Should I worry about skin cancer if I have darker skin? Doesn’t the pigment in brown skin protect me?
Risks and types of skin cancer can vary widely among different ethnic groups. If you have brown skin, the increased pigment does protect you from skin cancers caused primarily by sun exposure. But the sun isn’t the only cause. For example, the most common type of skin cancer in African-Americans—called squamous cell carcinoma—can develop from chronic trauma or a chronic wound. For people with brown skin, melanomas tend to occur in areas that aren’t exposed to the sun, such as the soles of the feet, palms of the hands, nail beds and inside the mouth.
How do I check for skin cancer?
Check your skin about once a month, in addition to a yearly routine follow-up with your doctor. Be on the lookout for moles with asymmetry (dissimilar halves), irregular borders and a diameter larger than 6 millimeters, or the size of a pencil eraser. Change is really the name of the game, so alert your physician if you notice a mole that has changed in size, color or shape.
Why should I go to Johns Hopkins?
Johns Hopkins offers a full spectrum of skin cancer clinical care from diagnosis to medical and surgical treatment. We have specialized programs for people who are at higher risk for skin cancers because of family history. Other programs such as our unique Ethnic Skin Program focus on the special skin cancer risks that affect ethnic groups like African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans. And our multidisciplinary melanoma service combines the expertise of dermatologists, surgical oncologists, and plastic and reconstructive surgeons.
What happens if skin cancer is discovered during a screening?
When caught early, most skin cancers can be easily treated as an outpatient procedure with a very high cure rate. The specific treatment varies depending on the type of skin cancer. For the most common types, Mohs micrographic surgery is often used. Mohs is a technique used to remove the cancer-containing tissue while leaving behind the most normal tissue. It has up to a 99 percent cure rate and is especially useful for treating skin cancers on the head and neck. It’s one of the many treatment options for skin cancer available at Johns Hopkins. Your doctor will discuss your options and help you choose the best treatment.
For more information, appointments or consultations, call 877-546-1872 or visit hopkinsmedicine.org/dermatology.