Dermatologists specialize in the body's single largest organ — the skin. They see miles and miles of skin in the course of their daily practice. New advances in treatment and a better understanding of risk factors mean that a dermatologist can make the difference between everyday beauty and beautiful skin, or life and death.
Cathy Carrier of Ashland is a beautiful woman, fair complected with red hair, not long past the age of 50. "My skin is extremely important to me because it's what people see. I've never had really good skin so I'm always looking at gorgeous skin," she says. With the memory of teenage acne and now dealing with rosacea, Carrier works hard to keep her skin healthy with moisturizers and conditioners, and sees her dermatologist twice a year.
The American Academy of Dermatology developed these guidelines to help check moles and lesions for the warning signs of melanoma. Call your health professional immediately if you see any of these signs.
A. Asymmetry. One half is unlike the other half.
B. Border irregular, scalloped or poorly circumscribed border.
C. Color varying from one area to another; shades of tan and brown, black; sometimes white, red or blue.
D. Diameter. While melanomas are usually greater than 6mm in diameter (the size of a pencil eraser) when diagnosed, they can be smaller. If you notice a mole different from others, or which changes, itches, or bleeds (even if it is small) you should see a dermatologist.
"Rosacea is a real common problem for adults; it's basically adult acne," says Dr. Judy Oursler of Rogue Valley Dermatology in Medford. The symptoms of rosacea include flushing, skin eruptions and superficial blood vessels in the skin. She says, "Usually we calm the bumps down with pills and laser the vessels — it's real safe, it doesn't hurt much, it's quick and it can make a big difference."
Basal cell carcinoma is a common form of skin cancer, characterized by small, pearly bumps and sores that won't heal. "Most of the time these happen because of sun people had in their childhood, teens and 20s," notes Dr. Oursler.
Earlier this year, Carrier noticed a little red patch on her cheek, right under her eye. "I thought it was rosacea so I didn't pay attention," she says. "Then one day it started to peel, drying up and bleeding." A surgeon biopsied the spot, diagnosed basal cell carcinoma, and removed it. Now the 1-inch scar is barely visible.
Melanoma is a form of skin cancer that has some of the same risk factors as other forms: family history, fair complexion and sun exposure. People with more than 50 true moles are also at higher risk. However melanoma is often found in people without any risk factors at all. "Melanoma is what kills people," stresses Dr. Oursler. "A mole or spot changing, doing funny things is the biggest reason to go to a dermatologist."
At 25, Barbie Hobien of Medford, was at the top of her game. Rafting and hiking, she lived the ideal Southern Oregon life. Then one day, everything changed. "I was just worried about a particular spot and I decided to go to see my doctor and get it checked out," she says. "It looked a little bit different, a little abnormal from other spots on my body." It was melanoma, luckily caught early enough and removed with margins wide enough to leave a big scar and save her life.
Practical and fearless, Hobien figured out what she could do to reduce her risk of the cancer's return. "It's not just about sunscreen. It's about avoiding the sun from 10 to 2, about checkups, and watching different moles and freckles. Sunscreen's great, but you have to wear hats, and clothing that has SPF," Hobien says.
Now 38 with two small children, Hobien is cheerful and consistent about her experience, modeling good, protective behavior for her kids. "They see me with my hats and clothes and sunscreen," she says. "It's important. They're learning, and hopefully they'll pass that along to their friends, that it will be such a common thing and that it will be natural to them." Hobien also checks her children's skin carefully and often, looking for changes.
"Your skin is what you show to the world. It reflects who and what you are, so pay attention," Carrier says. "You just keep watching because it's easy to take care of if you see it right away. That's the priority."
Take responsibility for your own skin; it's just good common sense. Every single day.