Local clinician shares insights into skin cancer prevention, treatment

LEWISTOWN–Twelve of the 20 patients seen every day by Elaine Bridgens, physicians assistant with Geisinger-Lewistown Hospital Dermatology, have some form of skin cancer. According to www.skincancer.org, more people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year in the U.S. than all other cancers combined.

There are three main types of skin cancer, according to Bridgens; basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. Bridgens said that basal cell and squamous cell generally present in the form of non-healing lesions, however melanoma is asymptotic. Bridgens tells her patients to watch the moles on their bodies and be aware of ABCDE: asymmetry, jagged border, changing or multi-color, diameter greater than five millimeters, and evolving (or changing).

Bridgens said the biggest help in preventing skin cancer is sun protection. If someone wears a moisturizer or foundation daily, Bridgens advises that person to use one with Sun Protection Factor. If a person plans to be outside for long periods, Bridgens recommends wearing broad spectrum, 80% (or more) water resistant sunscreen, with at least SPF 30. If the sunscreen is a spray, Bridgens suggests waiting at least 20 minutes before going into the sun, for the protection to take full effect. Bridgens also advises that all sunscreen should be re-applied every two hours.

The other way Bridgens said to avoid skin cancer is to avoid tanning beds. According to www.skincancer.org, more than 419,000 cases of skin cancer in the U.S. are linked to indoor tanning every year.

Treatments for skin cancers vary, depending on the type, the location and the size of the cancer. According to Bridgens, basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas are generally treated with curettage, a numbing of the area and scraping off of the lesion. Other times excision is used to cut the affected skin out. A Mohs procedure is used on sensitive areas of the body, such as the face and hands, during which thin layers of the affected skin are removed until normal skin shows under a microscope. Local anesthesia is used for both excision and Mohs.

The most unusual case of skin cancer Bridgens has seen since joining GHL was a patient with melanoma under his finger nail. “It’s so important for anybody with a family history or personal history of melanoma to get checked out,” said Bridgens. Though she herself hasn’t lost a patient yet, Bridgens had a friend that passed away from melanoma. According to www.skincancer.org, an estimated 9,320 people will die of melanoma in the U.S. in 2018.

“It’s is very treatable,” said Bridgens. “People should not have to die from skin cancer.”