Suraj S. Venna, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and medical director of the Inova Melanoma and Skin Cancer Center at the Inova Schar Cancer Institute. He has a special interest in the prevention, detection and treatment of melanoma.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. One in 5 Americans will be affected in their lifetime. Melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer, is predicted to cause 9,320 deaths in the U.S. in 2018 – about 25 deaths per day.
May is designated as National Melanoma Month. To raise awareness, the Inova Melanoma and Skin Cancer Center participated in several important events during the month. On May 5, in conjunction with Life with Cancer, faculty from our multidisciplinary melanoma team participated in a Melanoma and Skin Cancer Symposium. And on May 8, I joined a team of 9 volunteer dermatologists to provide skin cancer screenings and patient consultations at the annual Capitol Hill Skin Cancer Prevention Fair and Screening.
The Capitol Hill event, sponsored by the American Academy of Dermatology and numerous partner organizations, was an excellent opportunity to educate legislators, congressional staffers and the community about preventing and spotting skin cancer.
Skin Cancer Education and Screening
This year’s Prevention Fair welcomed nearly 120 attendees, including 8 members from both parties of the House of Representatives. During the event, we provided educational information about skin cancer, sun damage, sunscreen and sun protection for kids. Attendees also enjoyed an intimate and personal story from baseball legend Steve Garvey, 10-time All-Star and 1974 National League MVP. He spoke about the importance of skin cancer awareness, early detection of cancer and his own experience as a cancer survivor.
During the fair, my colleagues and I also screened attendees for signs of skin cancer and referred those with suspicious moles or lesions for further tests and evaluations.
This event is really important, because it gives my fellow dermatologists and me an opportunity to help our legislators understand how serious skin cancer can be – and hopefully encourage them to support legislation to protect people from the disease. For instance, dermatologists have lobbied for laws that will ban minors from using tanning beds, which significantly increase the risk of skin cancer.
In talking to people at the fair, I noticed that many of the younger attendees were surprised that melanoma can be so deadly. This points to why awareness events are critically important. We want to get the word out that skin cancer is serious – but also preventable. Unlike other cancers, skin cancer is something that can be seen. So the key is to look for suspicious lesions and be screened by a doctor who knows what to look for.
Melanoma: Spot the Signs
Regular skin cancer screenings are important for all of us. A good place to start is at your annual primary care visit. Ask your doctor to give your skin a check while you’re having your exam.
People at higher risk of melanoma should have a screening by a dermatologist once a year. Factors that increase risk include:
- Presence of 50 or more moles across the body
- Fair skin and a history of multiple blistering sunburns
- Family history of melanoma
- Personal history of any kind of skin cancer
Between screenings, see a doctor if you notice moles or spots with any of the “ABCDE’s” of melanoma:
- Asymmetry – One half unlike the other
- Border – An irregular or poorly defined border
- Color – Variations in color from one area to another (including tan, brown or black, or sometimes white, red or blue)
- Diameter – Larger than 6 mm (about the size of a pencil eraser)
- Evolving – Lesions that change in color, growth or texture
The Inova Melanoma and Skin Cancer Center at the Inova Schar Cancer Institute provides screening, detection and treatment of melanoma at all stages, from early to advanced. Learn more about our services, including skin cancer screenings, or call 703-970-6430 to schedule an appointment.