Q&A with Dr. Sara Moghaddam

Skin Cancer: Could this common disease be in your future?

Photo by Grant L. Gursky

Did you know that skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States? One in five Americans will develop skin cancer during their lifetime. May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, so the timing was perfect to ask Dr. Sara Moghaddam of Delmarva Skin Specialists questions regarding skin cancer and for her tips to improve overall skin health. 


Q: What are the most common forms of skin cancer, and how do they occur?

Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are the most common forms of skin cancer and grow from within the top layers of the skin. These cancers are caused by ultraviolet rays from the sun and can develop from a combined lifetime of unprotected sun exposure or even a sudden, rapid amount of sun exposure. (Hint, hint… like that Caribbean vacation you went on recently and came back with the worst sunburn ever! Ouch!)

Basal and squamous cell carcinoma usually grow slowly over time, however there is a small subset of these cancers that can develop and progress quickly. They rarely spread to other parts of the body but can become very large and disfiguring if left neglected or undetected for a prolonged period of time. 

Q: Everyone is familiar with melanoma, but just how serious can this form of skin cancer be? 

It’s extremely serious. One person dies every hour from melanoma. Again, the most common risk factor includes ultraviolet exposure, whether from the sun or artificial sources, such as tanning beds. A small percentage of melanomas can develop from pre-existing moles; however, most are a completely new spot on the skin. The most common locations for this type of cancer include the back and legs, but it can occur anywhere, including the eyes, mouth, nails and even genital skin. 


Q: What are the steps in determining a skin cancer diagnosis? 

The first step in early diagnosis and detection is seeing your dermatologist for a baseline skin exam. This is a noninvasive, simple screening and takes only a few minutes. I see patients every day who are concerned about a certain spot on their skin, which, after examination, I determine to be benign. However, in a large number of cases during the exam, I’ll find a suspicious lesion somewhere else that the patient had no idea about. 


Q: How often should someone have their skin checked?

Skin cancer is not always obvious. A baseline skin exam is critical, and your dermatologist will tell you how often you’ll need a skin check. For example, a patient with a newly diagnosed skin cancer is 40% more likely to develop another skin cancer in the next few years. In these instances, I’ll see the patient every six months until they’ve “graduated,” and then I decrease their office visit frequency. 


Q: At what age should one begin receiving regular skin check-ups?

Melanoma is one of the top cancers in young adults under the age of 30, which is why no one is too young to get their skin checked. 


Q: What if one needs a biopsy for a suspicious skin lesion on their skin? What happens next?

Don’t sweat it. This is a simple and quick process. It is done in the convenience of your dermatologist’s office, immediately following the skin check. No stitches are required, and you will receive diagnostic results within 1-2 weeks. If you are diagnosed with a skin cancer, your dermatologist will review your standard treatment options. 


Q: What are some precautions people can take to protect themselves from the sun?

Skin cancer is preventable. Sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, sun-protective clothing and seeking shade are all means to avoid dangerous ultraviolet rays that lead to skin cancer. As an aside, sun exposure is also a large contributor to aging and wrinkles of skin. Regardless of your willingness or ability to protect yourself, it still pays off to get your skin checked regularly. You will have peace of mind knowing that if something does pop up, your dermatologist can catch it early. I urge you to get your skin checked regularly — this could save your life! 


Dr. Sara Moghaddam is a board-certified dermatologist and a partner of Delmarva Skin Specialists in Selbyville. Call 302-564-0001 or visit DelmarvaSkin.com for more.