dermatologist check-up

Patients are often shocked when they come for a dermatologist check-up and a full-skin examination is required. To help you make the most of your consultation, here are a few tips.

A full skin examination performed by a dermatologist is a great opportunity and should be availed of at your appointment.

What happens during a dermatologist check-up?

The exam itself is usually very brief, taking just a few minutes. It entails removing your clothing so that the dermatologist gets to visualise all of your skin. It is important that your whole skin is visualised so the patterns and types of mole you have are seen.

The more moles you have, the longer the exam will take. If unusual moles are noticed, you may be sent to the photographer for close up images to be taken of specific ones, so that these can be monitored over time. Sometimes your dermatologist may suggest taking a biopsy from your skin.

A biopsy means taking a sample of a small piece of skin that can be examined under the microscope. This is performed under local anaesthetic.

Remove nail polish from fingers and toes before examinations and be prepared to take off make-up if necessary – so bring some supplies in case you need to reapply. Don’t wear fake tan as this will make the examination more difficult and not as accurate.

A dermatologist check-up with Dr Kara Heelan will take place at either the Chelsea Outpatient Centre (020 3494 4024) or Sydney Street Outpatients & Diagnostic Centre (020 3733 9029).

skin examination tips

You should examine your own skin regularly approximately once a month, but often people aren’t sure what they are supposed to be checking for or how best to examine their skin. Here are some skin examination tips to follow:

Skin examination tips:

  • Remember to check your face, neck, ears, body, arms and legs front and back
  • Don’t forget your scalp, in between your toes and the bottoms of your feet
  • You can use a handheld mirror to look at your back or ask your partner to help
  • Things to be concerned about are new, changing lesions, very itchy or bleeding ones and any lesions or crusty sore ones that don’t heal up
  • Also seek medical advice if you find new lesions that change in colour, size, shape or thickness over a period of weeks to months
  • Remember, moles are not always brown-coloured, so look out for pink, red, blue-black or skin-coloured lumps and bumps also

Self-skin examinations are important for you to do at home at regular intervals. This increases your chances of noticing something unusual so that you can present to the doctor for investigation at the earliest stage possible. If you’ve noticed a skin change that is concerning, you can arrange a consultation with Dr Kara Heelan at either the Chelsea Outpatient Centre (020 3494 4024) or Sydney Street Outpatients & Diagnostic Centre (020 3733 9029).

gel manicure and skin cancer

This is a question I get asked a lot and what a wise question! For those of you who get fortnightly gel manicures, this is something to think about.

Traditionally, the lamps used during these manicures were ultraviolet lamps predominantly emitting UVA. Ultraviolet-A radiation is associated with a higher skin cancer risk. There have been cases reported of skin cancer developing after UV nail lamp exposure. A 2014 study in JAMA Dermatology found that the level of UVA associated with a fortnightly manicure is probably not high enough to increase the risk of skin cancer significantly.

Overall, the good news is that the majority of the bigger brands which are commercially available have now switched to LED-bulbs. LED stands for light-emitting diodes and they are safer than UVA. Unfortunately, LED lamps can still emit some ultraviolet radiation in the form of UVA.

Gel manicures and skin cancer: what to be aware of

So the science around the issue of gel manicures and skin cancer remains controversial and inconclusive but the American Association of Dermatology and the Skin Cancer Foundation have issued advice on this. They suggest that regardless of the type of lamp, before getting your nails done it is a good idea to protect your hands from UVA exposure by using a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB), high SPF sunscreen on your hands and or using a pair of fingerless gloves. There is also probably an unappreciated risk with the availability of at-home DIY gel manicure kits that come with their own lamps and the drying lamps used to speed up the drying of conventional air-drying polish.

So remember before your next manicure to help reduce your risk:

  • Check what type of lamp your salon is using
  • Put on sun cream
  • Invest in some fingerless gloves.
winter season skin protection tips

With winter sports enthusiasts about to take off down the slopes, here are some tips on how to keep safe in the winter sun! Higher altitudes and UV reflection by the snow can increase the risk of sun damage. The sun’s reflection off the snow is strong even on cloudy days. Ultraviolet radiation exposure increases with increasing altitude.

To protect your skin from the sharp cold, strong winds and winter sun here are some useful tips:

  • Look for a high factor (at least factor 30) sun cream which is broad spectrum.
  • Broad spectrum refers to the protection of the sun cream against both UVA and UVB radiation. UVA radiation causes skin ageing and UVB causes sunburn.
  • Apply 20-30 minutes before outdoors exposure and reapply after excessive sweating, exercise or every two hours.
  • Apply sunscreen to all exposed skin.
  • Remember these areas as they often forgotten… the lips, ears, around the eyes, the neck, the underside of chin, scalp and hands.
  • Always wear a lip balm with an SPF. There are several on the market with at least factor 30.
  • Bring along travel size or sample size sunscreens with you to reapply while sitting on the chairlift.
  • Remember there is no such thing as all day sun cream.
  • Wear protective hats and facemasks in addition to sun cream.
  • A teaspoon full of sunscreen is required to completely cover the whole face
  • The type of sun cream one uses (gel, spray, cream, mist) is not necessarily important, but finding one that you like using will make it more likely that you use it and reapply it often.
  • Sunglasses or goggles that have wraparound or large frames will protect your eyes, eyelids and the thin skin around your eyes.
  • Use a moisturizer during winter months. Winter conditions can be particularly harsh on the skin and even more so for people who suffer from eczema and dry skin conditions.
  • Remember to continue to protect your skin during your leisurely outdoors slope lunch break!

Enjoy the winter season!

A new vaccine has been developed that – when used in conjunction with existing therapies – has been found to not only successfully treat aggressive melanoma, but also can prevent its recurrence.

Researchers at the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, California, worked with experts at other medical institutions to develop the vaccine that has proven 100% successful when tested in mice. They first screened around 100,000 compounds to look for one that could help them boost the effectiveness of a commonly-used cancer immunotherapy drug.

The co-lead of the study, Professor Dale Boger, commented: “Just as a vaccine can train the body to fight off external pathogens, this vaccine trains the immune system to go after the tumour. This co-therapy produced a complete response — a curative response — in the treatment of melanoma.”

Skin cancer study

Three groups were tested – the first were given the cancer vaccine and the second the vaccine plus a molecule called Diprovocim that boosts the immune response. The third group were given the cancer vaccine and a chemical known as alum which also activates the immune system but in a different way. All three groups were also given the anti-PD-L1 immunotherapy used in cancer treatment. The group that received the vaccine plus Diprovocim in addition to the anti-PD-L1 therapy had a 100% survival rate over 54 days.

The researchers established that Diprovocim boosts the immune response by ‘prompting’ the immune system to produce tumour-infiltrating leukocytes, a type of cell that attacks and kills cancer tumours.

Once an individual has been diagnosed and treated for skin cancer, their risk of developing skin cancer again increases greatly so what was also exciting was that the vaccine also protected the body from tumour recurrence.

So far results have only been demonstrated in mice with a genetically-engineered tumour so further testing is required into how this Diprovocium-boosted vaccine will work in humans and also how it might work in combination with other cancer therapies.

New research has found that a medication which is commonly used to treat inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, IBD and vasculitis, could increase the risk of skin cancer. Published in the Journal of Nature Communications, the research was a joint venture between the University of Dundee, Queen Mary University of London and the Wellcome Sanger Institute. Researchers found that there was a ‘strong case’ for an association between azathioprine and cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (cSCC), a common form of skin cancer.

It was previously known that azathioprine could lead to increased photosensitivity to UVA light, as well as with DNA-damaging effects on the skin, but now it’s thought that use of azathioprine correlates with a certain mutational signature in cSCC skin cancer.

The authors of the study do not believe that the medication should be withdrawn as it has many benefits in the treatment of what can be life-threatening diseases, but those who are prescribed azathioprine should wear appropriate sun protection all year round. It’s important that sun protection, skin surveillance and early diagnosis/lesion removal are part of the routine management of patients on azathioprine,” the study concluded.

Those who experience frequent cases of a common type of skin cancer known as basal cell carcinoma could have a significantly increased risk of other types of cancer, including breast, prostate, colon and blood cancers, according to a recently published study.

The preliminary study was carried out by the researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine in the US. It found that the increased susceptibility was probably due to mutations in the proteins that repair DNA damage.

These proteins in our skin are constantly repairing DNA damage caused by exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays and most of the time are very successfully, but if they can’t keep up then basal cell carcinomas can develop.

“We discovered that people who develop six or more basal cell carcinomas during a 10-year period are about three times more likely than the general population to develop other, unrelated cancers,” commented assistant professor of dermatology and author of the study Dr Kavita Sarin: “We’re hopeful that this finding could be a way to identify people at an increased risk for a life-threatening malignancy before those cancers develop.”

Basal cell carcinoma is a very common form of skin cancer – about one in three Caucasians will develop one at some point in their life and this is not an indicator of increased susceptibility to other cancers. However, if you’ve been diagnosed with several basal cell carcinomas over a short period, you may wish to consider increased cancer screening.