After the shocking skin cancer selfie by a young American woman, we asked the experts how to recognize and treat light skin cancer!
Yesterday we reported on Tawny Willoughby, the young woman who bravely showed her sore face on the web to protect others from the risks of UV radiation. The result of her teenage tanning craze: pale skin cancer. Each time, the 27-year-old's doctors have to remove a piece of cancerous skin from her face. Light skin cancer can be treated very well in the early stages. How to recognize light skin cancer early and how to treat it gently but effectively is explained to us by Dr. med. Dirk Mayer-Rogge, dermatologist at the Skin Center in Karlsruhe.
WOMAN: How do you recognize light skin cancer in the early stages?
Dr. Mayer-Rogge: Light skin cancer shows up in the early stages as scaly, reddish spots on the skin. This superficial skin change is called actinic keratosis. The UV light damages the genetic material of the epidermis cells, which accumulate over the years. However, the changed cells are only located on the topmost skin layer and have not yet invasively penetrated the deeper skin layers. Actinic keratoses should be treated as quickly as possible so that it doesn't come to that. Actinic keratoses particularly affect the body's sun terraces such as the face, ears, back of the hand or bald head.
WOMAN: Are there people who are at a particularly high risk for actinic keratosis?
Dr. Mayer-Rogge: People with light skin are particularly at risk of developing actinic keratoses, as the body's own protective mechanism against UV rays is not very well developed. Even those who spend a lot of work in the open air, such as construction workers, landscapers, etc., are at an increased risk. Since this year, skin cancer precursor has also been officially recognized as an occupational disease. Actinic keratosis is of course particularly at risk for anyone who frequently exposes themselves to UV radiation, apart from their professional needs. The mania for tanning - whether under the natural or artificial sun - increases the risk of skin cancer considerably. In general, it is best to avoid long sunbathing. If you want to be on the safe side, apply a lot of sunscreen when you expose your skin to the sun. Women should always apply a day cream with a sun protection factor.
WOMAN: How can actinic keratosis be treated?
Dr. Mayer-Rogge: There are several ways to treat actinic keratosis. The disease can, for example, be treated extensively with a cream. However, this treatment takes several months in most cases. In addition, there are relatively invasive therapy options in which the skin changes are removed, for example with a scalpel (curettage), mechanically abraded (dermabrasion) or dabbed with a caustic solution. Of all the possible options, I prefer therapy with the Fraxel laser for my patients. The laser energy penetrates exactly into the skin layer in which the actinic keratosis is located and has to be treated. The thermal changes caused by laser therapy cause the skin to renew itself and actinic keratosis to heal. Invasive penetration of the cancer cells into the deeper skin layers and the development of a squamous cell carcinoma are effectively avoided. At the same time, collagen production is stimulated, which strengthens the skin structure and thus prevents future damage. Compared to other procedures, the Fraxel treatment is better tolerated and less painful for the patient, as there are fewer inflammatory reactions and the healing rate is faster. This type of therapy is also ideal for difficult localizations such as lips or auricles, face or décolleté.
"Anyone who discovers scaly, reddish skin changes on their body should consult their dermatologist immediately."
WOMAN: What happens if actinic keratosis is left untreated?
Dr. Mayer-Rogge: If the disease remains untreated, it leads to pale skin cancer in 6-10 percent of cases - what is known as spinal ion or squamous cell carcinoma. In spinalioma, the cancer cells are no longer superficially on the skin as in actinic keratosis, but have already penetrated the deeper layers. As with many other cancers, the earlier the tumor, which can also form metastases, is detected, the better the chances of recovery. However, a spinal ion can no longer be treated externally, for example with the Fraxel laser. To cure skin cancer, the only thing that helps is to completely cut it out of the skin. In some cases, radiation or chemotherapy is also appropriate. That's why I emphasize once again: Anyone who discovers scaly, reddish skin changes on their body, especially on the face, hands, ears, cleavage or bald head, should consult their dermatologist immediately. Actinic keratosis can be treated very well and everyone should take advantage of this opportunity. Ignoring actinic keratosis can lead to pale skin cancer. And the only thing that can help is a scalpel.