NEW YORK (CBS 2) — Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, and treatments can leave you scarred and disfigured.
Researchers told CBS 2’s Dr. Max Gomez recently that they may have found an early warning sign that could help prevent skin cancer.
“I come from a tradition of swimmers, lifeguards, camp counselors, and we’ve spent hours upon hours upon hours in the sun,” Richard Rosenthal told Gomez.
Rosenthal said he is paying the price for all of those hours in the sun in the form of skin cancer. He has already had one skin cancer removed, as well as a number of pre-cancerous lesions known as solar or “actinic keratoses.”
“These lesions can turn into skin cancers, particularly through the squamous cell carcinoma type. And this is the second most common type of skin cancer that we see in our patients,” explained Mount Sinai Medical Center’s Dr. Gary Goldenberg.
Actinic keratoses look like red, scaly patches and are usually found on sun-exposed skin like backs of hands, balding scalps, ears, and the face. The keratoses can usually be frozen off with liquid nitrogen, but they could signal a more serious problem.
“We know that if a patient comes in with actinic keratoses, over 80 percent of patients have sub-clinical lesions which are underneath the surface that we can’t see with our eyes,” Dr. Goldenberg said. “These lesions are there and they can become actinic keratoses and squamous cell carcinoma down the road.”
Since the keratoses percolate under the surface of the skin and are not visible, dermatologists have started to move towards treating the entire face with preventive creams.
“The key is to treat them before they have a chance to become visible actinic keratoses, or worse, become squamous cell carninoma, which could require surgical intervention,” Dr. Goldenberg said.
There are several creams available that can be applied at home which can be used to fight rapidly dividing cells like keratoses. There is also something called photodynamic therapy, which allows patients to bathe their skin in a blue light that activates a lotion which is absorbed by keratoses.
Experts also recommend taking preventative steps, particularly using sunscreen. Even after skin cancer, using sunscreen can prevent the development of future keratoses, according to a study. Gomez cautioned that you should not diagnose your own keratoses or skin cancer, and advised anyone with concerns to visit a dermatologist.
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