The skin is our largest organ, so it makes sense that skin cancer is by far the most common type of cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that 96,480 new melanomas will be diagnosed (about 57,220 in men and 39,260 in women) in 2019.
If you are looking forward to spending lots of time outdoors in the next few months, it is important that you take the proper steps to protect your skin.
According to Dr. Leah Jacob, a board-certified dermatologist at Tulane Dermatology & Multispecialty Clinic, skin cancer can be prevented by working skin safety into your daily routine. Here are her suggestions:
1. Apply sunscreen with SPF 30 before going outdoors.
2. Choose shade over direct sun.
3. Reapply sunscreen every two hours as your skin absorbs it.
4. Stay protected while driving. “Your car windows may block some UVB rays, but most auto glass still allows the penetration of UVA rays,” Dr. Jacob says. “It’s always a good idea to keep a bottle of sunscreen in your car.”
5. Apply sun protection to your lips, scalp and hands. “Make sure you apply sunscreen up to the edge of your lips, or ‘vermillion,’ or use a SPF lip balm under your lipstick or gloss,” she says. “Your scalp and hands are constantly exposed to sunlight, so make sure you remember to apply sunscreen to your hands.”
Dr. Jacob’s areas of expertise are in general dermatology, cosmetic dermatology and skin cancer screening. As she explains the types of skin cancers, she also cautions that melanoma is on the rise. “Most suspicious moles and skin tags are normal or can be diagnosed as less invasive basal or squamous cell cancers,” she says. “These cancers can nearly always be removed without further treatment. If you are diagnosed with melanoma, you will need to have more frequent skin checks. If found early and treated, the cure rate for melanoma is excellent, however, melanoma can spread quickly and even become deadly.”
According to Dr. Jacob, especially if you have a family or personal history of skin cancer, you should be more diligent in checking your body for new growths, or changes in existing moles or marks. In between your appointments with your dermatologist, know your ABCDEs of moles so that you can spot signs of trouble:
Asymmetry: One half is unlike the other half
Border: A curved, irregular or blurry border
Color: Varied areas of color — different shades of tan, brown, black, red and sometimes even blue
Diameter: Larger than the diameter of a pencil eraser (usually)
Evolving: Changes in shape, color or size
“If, during your self-checkup, your find a mole that is flaking, bleeding, oozing, itchy, painful or tender, schedule an appointment with your dermatologist,” she says. “I tell my patients, don’t guess, have it checked.”
Avoiding Skin Cancer
Everyone, regardless of culture or skin tone, is susceptible to skin cancer. People who work in the sun, burn easily, have light hair or skin and have a family history of skin cancers are especially vulnerable. Dr. Jacob, provides the following reminders:
Limit sun exposure, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Wear a hat and long sleeves when you are out at mid-day.
Use a skin cancer foundation — approved sunscreen with SPF of at least 15.
Avoid tanning beds entirely.
Protect children. Preventing skin cancer starts early.
Although in theory the SPF that we see followed by a number on every bottle of sunscreen refers to the length of time you can stay in the sun, it is important to remember that no sunscreen will stay on your skin for more than two hours.
On why she became a doctor: “I loved science as a child and my interest in medicine began in high-school when I shadowed a doctor during one of our school breaks,” Dr. Jacob says. “I think that sparked my interest in the medical profession. Early on in my career I will never forget a young high-school patient that I treated. He came in with severe acne and he was very depressed. He would not even look me in the eye. Then, several months later, I watched as his personality changed and he became more comfortable in his own skin. It made me realize the impact we have on our patients’ lives.”
On her work at Tulane: “Today I continue to be inspired by the high caliber of faculty dermatologists that I work with daily,” Dr. Jacob says. “There is great collaboration here.”
Dr. Jacob completed her residency at Tulane University School of Medicine in Dermatology and trained under Dr. Erin E. Boh, M.D., PhD, FAAD. After five years in private practice she returned to Tulane in 2013 and now treats patients at all ages at Tulane Dermatology Downtown and Tulane Dermatology & Multispecialty Clinic.
Tulane Doctors – Dermatology – Covington
101 E. Judge Tanner Blvd., Ste. 406
Covington, LA 70433
Tulane Hospital – Dermatology – Downtown
1415 Tulane Ave., 5th Floor
New Orleans, LA 70112
MEDICAL SCHOOL: Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center New Orleans
RESIDENCY: Tulane University School of Medicine, Dermatology
BOARD CERTIFIED: American Board of Dermatology, General Dermatology, Cosmetic Dermatology and Skin Cancer Screening