Ask a Local Expert: Who is at risk for skin cancer and what are treatment options?

FEATURE— Everyone is at risk of developing skin cancer, but those who have lived in sunny climates, such as those in Southern Utah, are at even greater risk.

Skin cancer most commonly occurs when skin cells are overexposed to the harmful ultraviolet rays found in sunlight, causing DNA damage and mutations in the cells leading to skin cancer, Dr. Steven Peine, Vivida dermatologist said.

While everyone is at risk of developing skin cancer to an extent, those who are most at risk are people with light skin and hair, those who have lived in sunny climates and those who have experienced many sunburns in their life.

“The other big risk for developing skin cancer is if you’ve had sun burns as a younger person,” Peine said. “People who’ve had a blistering sunburn have twice the risk of getting skin cancer as anybody else.”

It’s never too late to begin practicing skin cancer prevention. The best way to prevent the DNA damage that leads to cancer is to avoid UV rays, so protection from the sun is key.

Wearing sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses and long-sleeved clothing while outside works well to prevent sunburns. However, if possible, it is recommended to stay indoors midday when the sun is high in the sky.

“A good rule of thumb is to try to only be outside when your shadow is longer than you are tall,” Peine said.

Dermatologists recommend yearly full-body checkups to look for signs of skin cancer. If a suspicious area is found, a biopsy is performed by numbing the area and removing a small piece of the skin to be sent to a laboratory for analysis.

If the results of the biopsy come back positive for skin cancer, there are several treatment options including incisions, electrodesiccation and curettage, or a burning and scraping method typically used to treat basal cell carcinoma. Chemotherapy or radiation may be necessary in some cases.

One of the best skin cancer treatment options, however, is Mohs micrographic surgery. Peine is a fellowship-trained Mohs surgeon who uses the surgery primarily to treat skin cancers on the head, neck and other sensitive areas.

Mohs micrographic surgery is the most effective way to treat skin cancer,” Peine said.

Mohs surgery is a simple procedure wherein the skin around the suspicious area is cut through a small incision and the tissue is removed and taken to a lab to determine whether or not it is cancerous. The doctor can then verify that all of the roots of the skin cancer have been removed the same day, which is 99 percent effective.

Peine is also a trained pathologist and can study the skin sample himself immediately after removing it instead of sending it off to a lab. If the sample is indeed cancerous, the same day testing allows him to remove any remaining skin cancer in the area immediately before reconstructing the area.

In Mohs surgery, the smallest incision possible is made in order to leave as much healthy skin as possible. As Peine is also trained in cosmetic reconstruction, the incision is repaired with minimal scarring.

“It’s an excellent treatment. Mohs surgery is the gold standard for clearing skin cancer,” Peine said.


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