May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month

Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States, and because it often develops on the face, head or neck, patients often seek the expertise of a board-certified facial plastic surgeon as part of their treatment plan.

Washington University Facial Plastic Surgery Center physicians Dr. Gregory Branham, Dr. John Chi and Dr. Emily Spataro help patients determine the most beneficial reconstructive surgery to meet both their esthetic and functional needs.

Dr. Branham and his colleagues understand that many patients are fearful and anxious after a skin cancer diagnosis, but encourage them to be proactive when developing an understanding of the disease process and the best ways to treat it.

“You should choose a facial plastic surgeon who is routinely doing facial reconstructions in conjunction with the Mohs dermatologic surgeon,” Dr. Branham says. (Mohs surgery is a specialized procedure used in the removal of skin cancer.)

He adds that while there are some fortunate patients who have small tumors, and, thus, have small or shallow defects that don’t require reconstruction and are managed by their dermatologist until healed, many others require surgery.

The most common reasons that the Facial Plastic Surgery Center sees patients for referral for skin cancers include:

  • The defect is large or complex, requiring special expertise.
  • The skin cancer is too large or complex to be done under local anesthesia in the office.
  • The type of skin cancer is not amenable to Mohs excision in the office.
  • The patient is anxious or fearful about the outcome of the reconstruction and what the appearance and function will be postoperatively.

“When deciding whether a reconstruction will be necessary, it is probably best to have a consultation with a facial plastic surgeon and then rely on the best judgment of the dermatologist/Mohs surgeon and the facial plastic surgeon,” Dr. Branham says. “They can help you decide what approach would be best, as they have seen many defects over time and are likely to know which defects will heal well without reconstruction and which ones will do better with reconstruction.”

Because May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, it is important to remember that there are ways to protect your skin from the sun. Wearing UV-blocking hats, clothing and sunglasses are all good ways to enhance your sun protection.

Sun avoidance and wearing sunscreen are the best methods to prevent skin cancer (and wrinkles).

Sunscreen should be applied liberally and reapplied often if you are in the sun for more than a few hours. “We don’t think about the fact that when it is warm, we often wipe away the sunscreen when we are outdoors,” Dr. Branham says.

Being vigilant in protecting your skin from the sun, conducting self exams of your skin from head to toe and visiting a medical provider for annual skin exams are all critical to your skin’s health.

For more information or to schedule a consultation with the physicians at the Facial Plastic Surgery Center, call 314-996-3880 or click here.