AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — Michelle Tarbox, M.D., an associate professor of dermatology for the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) School of Medicine is providing helpful ways to protect your skin from damage as summer temps continue to rise throughout the Texas Panhandle.

“There are many variations of skin cancer, but the three big heavy hitters that we talk about most frequently
are basal cell, squamous cell and melanoma,” Tarbox said. “Those are the most common ones that we encounter and the ones that are the most likely for a patient to find on their own, [but] getting a dermatologist to check your skin is the best way to guarantee that we’re doing the right thing for you.”

It’s important to routinely self examine your skin for any signs of damage because, according to Tarbox, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in humans, and it can be treated successfully.

“If it’s caught in its earliest stages, it’s 100% treatable, and people can live a completely normal life with just a little scar,” Tarbox explained. “if it’s detected very late, especially certain types of skin cancer, it can be much more serious and may require chemotherapy or it could potentially claim the person’s life.”

Tarbox suggested that when you are self-checking, look for spots that appear to be changing as skin cancer tends to evolve more quickly than normal spots or moles on the skin. Contact a medical professional if a spot begins to itch, becomes sore to the touch, or will not heal, a press release from TTUHSC stated.

In addition, the release noted that “people with the lightest skin phototypes and the greatest sun exposure generally have the greatest risk for skin cancer.” However, Tarbox further explained, “Skin pigmentation does have some protective effect, but certainly you can have skin cancer in patients of any skin type.”

The most commonly exposed areas such as the hands, arms, face and neck, are the most common areas for skin cancer with Tarbox adding that body areas that are rarely exposed including the groin, feet, and scalp, can also have some of the most dangerous types of skin cancer.

“Our stylists and barbers see scalps more often than any dermatologist does,” Tarbox pointed out. “Nine out
of 10 times it’s a benign spot, but for every single time we find a spot that is significant and needs treatment,
that might be a life saved.”

The treatment for skin cancer often depends on stage and type and early detection means some skin cancers can be treated with topical medicines while more advanced skin cancer, Tarbox said, may require some type of surgery to cut out the spot. Tarbox added that aggressive forms of skin cancer might require a procedure in which the surgeon removes a significant margin of normal skin and a sentinel lymph node.

Tarbox recommended the following ways to reduce the chances of developing skin cancer:

  • Eating plenty of vegetable and fruits of various colors. The chemicals that make those pigments in plants are actually photo protective in many ways. In addition, their antioxidant capacity can help to neutralize some of the bad effects that we get from UV radiation.
  • Protecting the skin from direct sunlight by wearing protective clothing (e.g., hats and long sleeves), seeking shade or applying sunscreen. The most effective sunscreens whether in powder, lotion, gel, or spray should offer good water resistance and an SPF of 30 or higher.
  • For children, limiting outdoor activities to times of the day when the sun is less intense such as the morning hours or late in the afternoon, reapplying sunscreen as necessary when children exit the water and helping them become comfortable wearing protective clothing.
  • Contacting a dermatologist aby time a new spot or mole appears on the skin.

“June is for most people, including me, the perceived beginning of summer,” Tarbox said. “I think moving
forward into the summertime with some sun smarts will probably help protect our skin down the road and
help us have better skin health for the rest of our lives.”

Check out a video released by TTUHSC for more skin safety tips from Dr. Michelle Tarbox.