It’s summer time and that means that we’re going to be talking about skin cancer and how you can take steps to protect yourself and your loved ones while spending time outdoors. Now I know that putting on sunscreen every time you want to hang outside is probably not something you’d list on your all time favorite summer activities, but the raw truth is that it saves lives.
Research shows us that skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed type of cancer amongst both men and women. So maybe people were ignorant of the risks of excessive sun exposure a few decades ago, but that excuse no longer applies.
When it comes to skin cancer, early detection is key. You should read last month’s post about monthly self exams if you missed it. Skin cancer is much easier to treat when it’s identified early on. But a more aggressive disease like melanoma can quickly become deadly if given the opportunity to metastasize.
Don’t Ignore those Itchy Skin Lesions
This brings us to the main point of today’s post which is improving our ability to diagnose skin cancer, and it seems like a group of researchers at Temple University may have done just that. They’re suggesting that early diagnostic rates could be improved if patients are asked if their skin has been unusually itchy or painful in some places.
Background research conducted by the Temple team uncovered some significant findings:
- Nearly 36.9 percent of skin cancer lesions cause itching
- 28.2 percent are painful
- Lesions that do not represent melanoma have a higher likelihood of being itchy or painful
(When we say non-melanoma skin cancer, this refers to squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma.)
“The study highlights the importance of a simple bedside evaluation for the presence and intensity of pain or itch as an easily implementable tool for clinicians in evaluating suspicious skin lesions,” explained the team.
Real Red Flag for Doctors and Patients
Most cases of skin cancer (this includes melanoma) begin their development as an unusual looking skin lesion. A persistent lesion that has been particularly itchy and bothersome should be a red flag for patients and doctors alike.
“Patients sometimes have multiple lesions that are suspicious looking, and those that are itchy or painful should raise high concerns for non-melanoma skin cancers,”stated Dr. Yosipovitch, Director of the Temple Itch Center.
The research team ranked the three most common forms of skin cancer by order of which tends to be itchiest:
- Squamous cell carcinoma (also tends to produce the most painful lesions)
- Basal cell carcinoma
(Quick Note: the pain and itchiness seem to coincide for most of these lesions.)
Dr. Yosipovitch has provided a great insight with this research, one that can be implemented right away. He thinks that a ranking scale for pain and itchiness should be developed for dermatologists. Indeed, we agree that at least a heightened awareness of unusual skin lesions will help identify early warning signs sooner.