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The Importance of Skin Cancer Checks

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The Importance of Skin Cancer Checks

Head-to-toe skin exams, at home and in your dermatologist’s office, can save your life

Head-to-toe skin exams, at home and in your dermatologist’s office, can save your life


Joshua Fox, M.D. small photo

( – Roslyn, NY, November 2010 – Skin cancer is a scary subject. “No one wants to think about developing a disfiguring, even deadly, disease, therefore so many Americans live in a state of denial,” says Joshua Fox, M.D., a leading
dermatologist and medical director of Advanced Dermatology of New York and New Jersey. “Most people know they are supposed to be checking their skin monthly for changes that might be cancer, but they aren’t exactly diligent about it. It’s something that gets put off for later, often indefinitely.”

But skipping the skin scans can be dangerous, says Paige Farkas, M.D., a
dermatologist specializing in skin cancer screening at Advanced Dermatology.
“There have been significant advances in the treatment of skin cancer,
including the deadly types, but we know that the front-end things—detection,
diagnosis and immediate treatment—are still critical.” In fact, she says,
despite the fact that skin cancer is among the simplest types of cancer to
identify since it’s visible on the outside of the body, the rates continue
to rise. And while non-melanoma cancers have a relatively good prognosis,
melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, can quickly become lethal. In
fact, new research shows that melanoma cells have a unique ability to
override even the healthiest immune system, eventually spreading far beyond
the initial site.

The truth is, checking your skin regularly, and making an appointment to
have your dermatologist do the same, is the best and only way to catch skin
cancer before it spreads. “For the past twenty-five years, we’ve told people
to pay attention to the ‘ABCDs’ of pigmented skin irregularities,” Dr. Fox
says: “Asymmetry, border irregularity, color variation, and diameter more
than 6 mm (about ¼ inch). These are still the key to identifying a problem
growth among a bunch of innocuous looking freckles and moles,” he says.

Here are the rules of skin cancer screening:

Make it a habit to check your skin at home.
Dr. Fox recommends checking yourself, head to toe, once a month. That means
stripping down to your birthday suit and looking over every inch of skin,
even in areas where you’ll need a hand mirror to get a good look. “Many
cases of melanoma and other cancers develop on the scalp,” Dr. Fox says.
“These cancers can be deadly, but unfortunately, most people don’t check the
tops of their heads very often.” Be sure to check the palms of your hands,
your nails, and the soles of your feet, too.

Know what is normal.
In most cases, a normal mole is an even brown, tan, or black color, which
can be either flat or raised, round or oval. Some moles are present at
birth, others develop during childhood or even later in life, especially in
areas that get lots of sun. Once a mole is there, it will most likely stay
the same size, shape and color. Some moles eventually fade and disappear.
“Almost everybody has moles, and almost all of those moles are harmless,”
Dr. Fox says. But people with lots of moles, more than 50, are at a higher
risk for skin cancer.
What’s not normal: Flesh-colored, pearl-like bumps or pinkish or reddish
patches of skin that flake or scale (or even bleed), which can be basal cell
or squamous cell carcinomas.

Pay attention to changes in your skin.
Look for anything new, a new mark, or an old mark that looks different, as
well as any new sensations in or around a freckle or mole. In some cases,
the skin can become crusty or scaly, or start to feel itchy or even sore.
Pay attention to any marks that change in color, size or shape, as well as
marks that just look different from the other marks on your body. “Spots on
the skin come in all shapes and sizes, and not every mark you see will be
cancer,” Dr. Fox says. “But if you see something that really stands out,
what dermatologists call an ‘ugly duckling’, be sure to tell your
dermatologist in a timely manner.”

Find a dermatologist who uses dermatoscopy technology.
Also known as epiluminescence microscopy [ELM], or surface microscopy, this
is a relatively new (and not-too-common) method of screening that’s
extremely effective at identifying cancers, helping the doctor distinguish
malignant lesions from benign ones, says Dr. Farkas, who uses a dermatoscope
in her practice at Advanced Dermatology. “The dermatoscope uses polarized
light and a magnifying lens to let us ‘see’ the skin more clearly,” she
explains. “It significantly increases the accuracy of the exam, meaning we
can detect problems much more reliably than with the naked eye.”

About Dr. Fox: Joshua L. Fox, M.D., F.A.A.D., earned his medical degree
from the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York. He completed an
internship at Maimonides Hospital in Brooklyn, followed by a three-year
dermatology residency at the New York University School of Medicine. A
Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology, Dr. Fox is a leading
authority in the field of dermatology, with an expertise in skin cancer,
cosmetic surgery and laser procedures

About Dr. Farkas: Dr. Paige Farkas is a board certified dermatologist with
experience in all areas of medical, cosmetic and laser dermatology. The
focus of her practice is general and cosmetic dermatology and skin cancer
screening examinations utilizing dermatoscopy technology. Dr. Farkas
received her medical degree at Yeshiva University – Albert Einstein College
of Medicine with distinction in research, and was a member of the Alpha
Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society. She completed her residency and served as
chief resident in the Department of Dermatology at Albert Einstein. For many
years, she worked as Clinical Instructor at Montefiore Medical Center, and
supervised medical residents in the Dermatology Department. She has been
Staff Dermatologist at Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, NJ since 1993, and
provides outpatient dermatology clinics for the underprivileged in the

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