Be “skin aware” to reduce cancer risks

May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, when interest in skin cancer prevention, detection and treatment is high. Here’s a quick overview of the major types of skin cancer with links to photos of what they look like.

“Screening for skin cancer is very important,” said Dr. Don Hughes, family physician at Riverwood Healthcare Center. “The sooner it is found and treated or removed, the easier it is to deal with.  Prevention is much more important, then you don’t have to be treated in the first place.”

He added: “I regret that sunscreen was not available or recommended when I grew up and spent my summers working in the sun. As a result, I have already had a skin cancer removed and each year do a treatment to try to lessen the chance of new skin cancers.  Ask your provider to do a skin check at your annual preventive health visit.”


Actinic Keratosis, or Solar Keratosis, is considered the earliest stage of skin cancer. This is a pre-cancer that can be treated with cryotherapy (freezing), topical chemotherapy (applying a cream or lotion), photodynamic therapy (a chemical is applied to the skin prior to exposure to a light source), or other dermatologic surgical procedures. Learn more about Actinic Keratosis.

Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) is the most common type of skin cancer.  It accounts for over 90% of all skin cancers in the U.S. They usually do not grow quickly and will not metastasize (spread to other parts of the body).  They will continue to get larger and can extend below the skin to the bone and nerves. When found early, this skin cancer is highly treatable. Surgery is the most common choice of treatment. View BCC photos and learn more about BCC.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common skin cancer. Squamous cell carcinoma also rarely spreads, but it does so more often than Basal cell carcinoma. Unlike Basal cell carcinoma, this form of cancer can metastasize (spread to other parts of the body), so it is important to get treatment early. When treated early, the cure rate for both Basal cell and Squamous cell carcinoma is over 95%. View SCC photos and learn more about SCC.

Melanoma is an uncontrolled, abnormal growth of cells that starts in skin cells called melanocytes. Melanocytes are pigmented cells in the skin. Melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer. Early detection is important because melanoma may metastasize (spread to other parts of the body).

Warning signs of Melanoma include:

  • Changing mole
  • Spot that looks like a new mole, freckle, or age spot, but it looks different from the others on your skin
  • Spot that has a jagged border, more than one color, and is growing
  • Dome-shaped growth that feels firm and may look like a sore, which may bleed
  • Dark-brown or black vertical line beneath a fingernail or toenail
  • Band of darker skin around a fingernail or toenail
  • Slowly growing patch of thick skin that looks like a scar

View melanoma photos and learn more about melanoma.

No matter what, if you see anything new, changing or unusual on your skin, get it checked out as soon as possible. Riverwood offers dermatology care at its Specialty clinic in Aitkin. For an appointment, call Dermatology Professionals at 888-841-2897.

Keep you and your family safe with these sun protection tips:

  1. Limit the amount of time in the sun between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm—when the sun’s rays are the most intense.
  2. Use sunscreen daily, even though it may be cloudy at times.
  3. Choose a broad spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB radiation. Make sure it is water resistant and has a SPF of 30 or higher.
  4. Reapply sunscreen every two hours, or every hour if you are swimming or sweating.
  5. For extended time in the sun, wear a hat that shades your face, neck, and ears and a pair of sunglasses.