Your Skin Cancer Questions Answered

Today on live television, Sam Champion had a small procedure performed to remove a small spat of skin cancer. The operation, which you can see by clicking here, sparked a lot of questions about skin cancer.

We invited you to send in your questions and Dr. Doris Day, a New York dermatologist, kindly volunteered to answer them for you.

Read her answers below, and then find out more about skin cancer by clicking here to go to our Skin Cancer Resource page.

Question 1: I have had a few precancerous spots surgically removed by my dermatologist. I noticed on the segment today that Sam's doctor waited to review the slides before stitching him up. My doctor stitched me up right away. Do I need to be alarmed at that?

Dr. Day: There are different methods for removing skin cancer. Both are correct. With Mohs surgery in particular, the patient waits while the specimen is processed, but in other cases, when the site is stitched up right away, it is still sent to the lab and when the report comes back, the doctor will let you know if the area is completely clear or if more work needs to be done at the site.

Question 2: What if you can see suspicious spots, but don't do anything. How long can you let these go? I am 56, very fair skinned and had bad sunburns as a teen. Each spot is about the size of a pea or smaller, raised and grayish-whitish on the top. I have two spots not near each other that I have had for about two years.

Dr. Day: Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are generally slow-growing and remain local. Melanoma is more problematic and can spread more quickly. Any new or changing lesions should be evaluated by your dermatologist. There is no amount of time that any particular lesion obeys, but the sooner they are evaluated and treated the better the outcome. Sometimes the dermatologist may opt to observe and follow lesions over time, or they may reassure you that the lesions are not precancerous and no further treatment is necessary.

Question 3: I know melanoma is the most serious of skin cancers. I'm looking for some reassurance that if treated early, it can be fine. My husband had surgery for melanoma six years ago at age 27. It was not in the lymph nodes at that time. I know he should get regular checkups and watch for any signs, but I worry because I constantly hear that it is so deadly. That is what Sam said on the show today. Can people with melanoma go on to live long and cancer-free lives?

Dr. Day: Melanoma is the highest risk of the skin cancers, but when caught early it has a better than 96 percent cure rate, and those people go on to have full, healthy, melanoma-free lives. They do need to have regular skin cancer screenings, as well as regular eye exams, since melanoma can also occur in the eyes. Also, all first degree relatives (siblings and children) need to be screened regularly since their risk is increased as well.

Question 4: What are the best ingredients to look for in a sunscreen to protect from UVA and UVB?

Dr. Day: Avobenzone, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Other ingredients are mexoryl, helioplex and avotriplex. You should also wear a physical protection hat and sun protective clothing, and stay in the shade when possible. Look for an SPF of 30 or higher, and one with broad-spectrum UVA/UVB coverage on the label.

Read more about sunscreen and its ingredients by clicking here.

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