By Julie Khanna
Routine skin checkups and early detection positively impact the outcomes of serious skin cancers like melanoma. Many people think sun exposure is the only prerequisite for skin cancer, yet melanoma can develop even if you’ve never had sun damage. Most melanoma doesn’t even start in a pre-existing mole, another common misconception; in fact, melanoma can be colorless. With the skin being the largest and most vast organ of the human body, there is so much more than meets the eye when it comes to one of the deadliest types of cancer.
According to Aim at Florida, Florida ranks second in the nation for the highest rate of new melanoma cases. But, beyond your geographical area, Dr. Katherine Chiang, a dermatologist in Wellington, Florida, warns not knowing the lesser-known truths surrounding melanoma or not properly preparing for your skin checkup could put you at even higher risk.
You may think that if you stay out of the sun or wear sun protection, you are safe from melanoma or other types of skin cancer. Many people may not realize that it is not just the sun that can cause skin cancer. The sun causes spots on our skin which in turn may lead us to use makeup, lotions, or sprays to improve our imperfections; however, it could be those same things that are adding to our risk of skin cancer. The very remedies we are doing to improve the appearance of our skin, nails, and hair could harm us. Some of the products we use could carry toxic chemicals and increase your skin cancer risk.
Another common misconception about melanoma and other skin cancers is that people of color are not affected or are at a lesser risk. The truth is Black, Indigenous, and people of color are also at risk and can be affected the same way as people with lighter skin. “Melanoma is very sneaky and can affect anybody regardless of skin color. Like with most diseases, there is an element of genetics as well as environmental exposure. Patients of color are approximately five times less likely to get melanoma. Still, oftentimes the types of melanoma we see in patients of color are more advanced with worse prognosis,” explains Dr. Chiang.
Melanoma isn’t just cancer on your skin. Because melanoma is cancer that begins with the cells that give the skin its color, called melanocytes, melanomas can actually develop anywhere on the skin. “Melanoma can affect cutaneous skin, known as the skin on the outside of our body, and even non-cutaneous skin, which includes areas like the eyes, mouth, and stomach lining,” adds Dr. Chiang.
How can you prepare for your derm appointment?
Going to the dermatologist to have your body examined can feel very vulnerable, but your practitioner must have visual access to all areas of your body. “I love it when my patients come ready for a full body skin check! It helps me deliver the most comprehensive and most accurate skin check experience,” reminds Dr. Chiang. Arriving for your appointment with these tips in mind will help you get the most thorough examination.
- Your hair should be easy to comb through, and the scalp should be visible- no hair spray, no updo, no recent hair dye (this often tints the scalp, too), no glue-on hair accessories, and no extensions.
- Face and body should have no makeup or tanning products.
- Remove nail polish, gel, or acrylics ahead of time. The nail bed should be visible.
- Jewelry and watches should be left at home or removed in the exam room.
- Shoes should be easy to slip on and off.
Lastly, leave the embarrassment at the door and reaffirm that your provider is a highly trained practitioner solely purposed with examining you for your best health and not here to judge you. “One thing that patients always feel embarrassed about is their body hair. Don’t be! It’s not gross. It’s normal,” shares Dr. Chiang. These few extra steps in preparing for your next checkup, and knowing these lesser-known facts, might lead to the prevention or early detection of a very serious cancer.
More about Dr. Katherine Chiang
After graduating from Princeton University, Dr. Chiang moved to Cleveland, Ohio, to pursue her medical degree at one of the top medical schools in the country, Case Western University Medical School. There she discovered a passion for diseases of the hair, skin, and nails. Dr. Chiang went on to complete her dermatology medical training at the world renowned Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Cleveland, Ohio. Her rigorous training included adult, pediatric, surgical, and cosmetic dermatology and dermatopathology. She has presented at numerous national dermatology conferences and has been published in numerous leading peer-reviewed dermatology journals, including the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology and Pediatric Dermatology. She loves practicing dermatology and looks forward to caring for you and your family! You can learn more about me on our practice website: precisionmds.com In her free time, Dr. Katherine Chiang enjoys yoga, tennis, cooking, reading, and spending time with her husband and daughters.