Dr. Koneru, medical oncologist at Lakeridge Health and Dr. Turner, Durham Region dermatologist
Skin Cancer and Sun Safety: Dr. Koneru and Dr. Turner's tips
Skin care specialists share skin cancer and skin safety tips for you
As we enjoy the heat of the summer sun, water our baking front lawns, tend our drooping garden flowers, and haul out the splash tub for the kids, many of us forget the risks of being out in the sunshine. While the sun brings us light, warmth, Vitamin D, and often a smile, harmful rays from the sun onto our skin can put us at risk of skin cancer.
Skin cancer is defined as the abnormal growth of skin cells. The most common cause of skin cancer is exposure to the sun. Remember that while this is not the only cause of skin cancer you can reduce your risk of skin cancer by limiting or avoiding exposure to sunlight.
Avoiding or limiting exposure to the sun’s harmful rays is just one tip for skin care from medical oncologist Dr. Rama Koneru at Lakeridge Health’s R.S. McLaughlin Durham Regional Cancer Centre (DRCC), and Durham Region dermatologist, Dr. Cory Turner at the Oshawa Clinic.
Both of these local skin care experts work in tandem to serve our Durham Region population, especially those who are living with skin cancer.
“We support a number of communities [at the DRCC] including Cobourg, Peterborough, and the Durham Region…and we see a high number of skin cancer patients,” says Dr. Koneru.
As a medical oncologist, or cancer specialist, Dr. Koneru has been caring for people affected by skin cancer for over a decade. In addition to her critical role in patient care, Dr. Koneru carries her passion for patient advocacy and cancer care with her everyday as the site-chair at Lakeridge Health for the skin cancer tumour board, and an active member of the skin advisory board for Cancer Care Ontario.
Over her illustrious career, Dr. Koneru has seen advances in skin cancer treatments that mean longer life expectancies for those touched by skin cancer. In 2020, an estimated 1,300 Canadians will die from melanoma skin cancer.
“When I started treating ten years ago, the treatments were very toxic and not very effective,” reflects Dr. Koneru. “Now, depending on the patient, there are often 2-3 types of treatment, with options for clinical trials, and the patients are living much longer and with much better quality of life.”
Patients come to see Dr. Koneru after being referred by their family doctor or local skin care experts like dermatologist Dr. Cory Turner.
“Sun damage, pre-cancer, or skin cancer cases are common in the Durham Region,” says Dr. Turner. “Well over half of the patients I see are sun related disorders.”
Serving our community from the Oshawa Clinic, Dr. Turner will assess patients who may be at risk of skin cancer, or who have skin symptoms that suggest skin cancer. In some cases, Dr. Turner, or a local plastic surgeon, will remove the skin cancer themselves. However, for complicated cases, Dr. Turner will work with his patients as they are referred to the DRCC.
“Sometimes in advanced or complicated cases, the patient may be referred to cancer experts like Dr. Koneru,” explains Dr. Turner. “Because these complex skin lesions can metastasize, or spread into the body, they may need more specialized treatment such as radiation.”
Self-check your Skin
Using the ABCDE method, you can self-check your skin. If you or a loved one are concerned about your skin symptoms, please, contact your family doctor.
A: asymmetric: if you find an asymmetric lesion or mole they may be considered abnormal
B: borders: borders on regular moles are usually very well defined, but if that is not the case and instead you see pits or jagged edges, this may be considered abnormal
C: colours: is your mole uniform in colour, either a dark brown or black? If there are variations in the colour of a single mole (for example, one area is darker than another) this may be considered abnormal
D: diameter: is the size of your mole increasing? Try taking pictures over the course of a few weeks to monitor
E: evolution: if your mole, or spot, is changing over time, take pictures and monitor. If your mole or spot is growing rapidly, this is a concern you should bring to your family doctor
Remember, common skin cancers like basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma can also present themselves as new bumps or spots which do not heal or go away on their own. These bumps or spots may be red, rough to the touch or even bleed.
“Skin cancer is much easier to handle earlier on than later on,” shares Dr. Turner. “If you have a concern about something new on your skin, something that is not healing, or changing like a mole that is changing in size or colour, or presenting symptoms like itching or bleeding, it is very important to get checked out. See your doctor and have it assessed. Don’t delay!”
While improvements are happening to treatments for sun damage and skin cancer treatments all of the time, Dr. Turner and Dr. Koneru agree that prevention and early detection are still key elements in navigating skin cancer.
Tips for Sun Care
Avoid being in direct sunlight during the sun’s strongest hours of 10AM- 2PM.
If possible, wear long sleeved shirts, pants, and a wide brimmed hat that will cover your entire face, ears, and neck.
Wear sunscreen: when you are looking for sunscreen ensure that you are purchasing and using BROAD SPECTRUM sunscreen. Broad spectrum sunscreen covers you from both UV and UVB rays.
Most people know to look for 30+ SPF, but Dr. Turner actually recommends 50+ where possible as most people do not get the full SPF benefits listed on the packaging because they do not apply a thick enough layer of sunscreen.
If possible, look for sunscreen approved by the Canadian Dermatology Association.
Everyone is different but generally, if you know you are going to be in the sun for longer than 10-15 minutes, it is recommended that you wear sunscreen.
Use the ABCDE method and check your skin regularly.
And remember, sun burns and sun damage do not only happen during the summer. Applying sunscreen and protecting your skin is important during the winter as well.
“We are always trying to improve treatment and care for our cancer patients,” Dr. Koneru says. “Locally we try and provide resources such as the melanoma skin patient group at Hearth Place here in Oshawa. Each year, though not this year with COVID-19, I try and visit the group. It is important work outside of my physician work because the better education and support we provide for our patients, the better quality of life. We are making a difference not just from a medical perspective, but from support and advocacy for patients too.”
For Dr. Koneru, caring for her patients as a physician and as a patient advocate is important to improving her patients’ lives, and to improving skin cancer care for the future.
“In my work at Lakeridge Health, I see this great commitment to patient care. Everyone is in it with their heart. So to our donors I want to say thank you and to remind you that your money is being put to good use. The staff here are really committed which is what made me come to Lakeridge Health, and what had me stay. Overall, we promote patient care in a genuine way. Putting patients first is not just a slogan here.”
Improvements for skin cancer care are happening all of the time and they are available to patients right here in the Durham Region. Advances in treatments, access to clinical trials, and support systems are in place to serve our local community. We are grateful for local health care experts like Dr. Turner, and Lakeridge Health cancer specialists like Dr. Koneru, for caring for those we love who have been touched by skin cancer.
If you would like to support cancer care in our Durham Region and beyond, please donate now.