Recent Blog Articles

Skin Cancer Archive


On call: Does skin cancer come back?

Updated March 12, 2014

Image: Thinkstock

Q. I recently had a basal cell carcinoma of the skin removed. Will it come back? Can I prevent a recurrence?

A. After being removed, basal cell carcinoma (BCC) of the skin does recur at some other spot on the body in about 40% of people. Routine skin examinations can find repeat cancers while they are still small. The exams should cover the entire body, including the top of your head, the backs of your ears, and the bottoms of your feet. BCC often appears as a waxy or pearly colored bump.

Tips to help prevent and treat rosacea

Updated August 1, 2013

Sixteen million Americans struggle with rosacea, a skin condition characterized by flare-ups of reddened and sometimes bumpy facial skin. Over time, rosacea can reveal blood vessels under the skin's surface. But you don't have to suffer. Consider this advice from dermatologist Dr. Kenneth Arndt, a Harvard Medical School professor.

  • Use topical treatments. "The most effective gels, creams, and lotions contain either metronidazole or azeleic acid. They should keep rosacea under control with continued use, which is safe for prolonged periods of time without side effects," says Dr. Arndt.

  • Treat rosacea on the inside, too. "Very low doses of antibiotics, such as doxycycline, are effective in controlling rosacea's inflammation. The dosage is much lower than would be used for a bacterial infection, so the potential side effects are minimized or absent. Start with orals and topicals, then taper off to topical agents only"

  • Eliminate dilated blood vessels with lasers. Effective treatments include the pulsed dye laser (yellow light), pulsed green-light laser, and intense pulsed light. Several treatments are usually required, spaced six to 12 months apart.

  • Use diet to avoid flare-ups. "Do everything possible to avoid triggers such as spicy foods as well as thermally hot food and drink—it's the heat that causes flushing, not the coffee itself," says Dr. Arndt.

Research We're Watching: Aspirin may lower melanoma risk

Updated June 1, 2013

Aspirin may lower women's risk for melanoma. The longer women take aspirin, the lower their risk appears to be. However, because aspirin can cause gastrointestinal bleeding, women need to use it with caution.

Aspirin linked to preventing deadly skin cancer

Updated June 1, 2013

Aspirin appears to be associated with a lowered risk of melanoma in postmenopausal women. It does not appear to cause melanoma risk to decrease. It is only associated with a decrease in risk.

New sunscreen labels offer clearer sunburn, skin cancer information

Published May 21, 2013

With the unofficial start of summer just a few days away, many people will soon be stocking up on sunscreen. The products they’ll be seeing in stores look different than they have in the past. That’s because new rules for sunscreen labels are now in effect. The changes are good ones for consumers. The new rules, mandated by the FDA, are making sunscreen more informative with less misleading information. For example, the term “sunblock” is banned because none of these products can block all of the sun’s ultraviolet rays. “Waterproof” is also banned, replaced by “water-resistant”—which must be accompanied by a set time for reapplication. Another big change has to do with SPF, or sun protection factor. The best protection comes from a sunscreen that provides broad spectrum protection, meaning it filters out much of the UVA and UVB. Under the new FDA rules, if a label says “broad spectrum,” the product must pass tests proving that it truly protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Sunscreen products that don’t meet an SPF of 15 or higher for both UVA and UVB must now carry a warning.

Smartphone applications not always reliable to assess skin cancer

Updated April 1, 2013

Phone applications that monitor suspicious moles for the deadly skin cancer melanoma may not be reliable. In a study, three out of four applications incorrectly classified 30% or more melanomas as unconcerning.

Latest Mohs skin cancer surgery guidelines

Updated February 1, 2013

Zeroing in on who might be eligible for this first-line treatment.

For the first time, dermatologists now have official guidelines for Mohs surgery, a procedure that removes skin cancer while minimizing damage to surrounding healthy tissue. The new Appropriate Use Criteria (AUC) for Mohs surgery, approved by a number of dermatologic associations, will help doctors better select patients for the procedure. "There can be a slight bias toward using it for almost all nonmelanoma skin cancers, since Mohs surgery offers the highest cure rate of any surgical procedure for skin cancer," says Dr. Tom Rohrer, a Mohs surgeon at Harvard-affiliated New England Baptist Hospital.

Ask the doctor: What is Mohs surgery?

Updated January 1, 2013

Q. My dermatologist is recommending Mohs surgery to remove a basal cell cancer on my nose. What does this involve?

A. Mohs micrographic surgery is named after Frederic Mohs, who developed the technique in the 1930s. It's a specialized surgical procedure used to eliminate skin cancers that spread locally (but do not spread through the body) and are likely to return unless all the cancer is cut out. The goal of Mohs surgery is to remove all of the cancer cells while preserving as much of the normal tissue as possible. To do this, the surgeon removes the cancerous tissue layer by layer, examining each layer under a microscope, until the outer edge of the removed layer (the margin) is free of cancer cells.

New attack on precancerous patches

Updated January 1, 2013

58 million of us have actinic keratoses. Now treatment is easier.

They look minor. They are usually pea-sized rough patches, often scaly and with surrounding redness, on sun-exposed skin. But actinic keratoses (AK), caused by too much sun exposure, are nothing to dismiss. "They can progress to skin cancer, or there can be so many that it's difficult to pick out lesions that are already skin cancers," says Dr. Suzanne Olbricht, associate professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School.

Do-it-yourself skin cancer checks

Updated December 1, 2012

How to spot potential problems and get peace of mind.

Skin cancer may be your last health worry under winter's gray skies. But skin cancer checks need to be a year-round maintenance effort. "About 50% of melanomas are identified by patients, and even more are discovered if the skin is examined with the help of a partner," says Dr. Kenneth Arndt, a Harvard Medical School professor.�

Free Healthbeat Signup

Get the latest in health news delivered to your inbox!

Harvard Health Publishing Logo

Thanks for visiting. Don't miss your FREE gift.

The Best Diets for Cognitive Fitness, is yours absolutely FREE when you sign up to receive Health Alerts from Harvard Medical School

Sign up to get tips for living a healthy lifestyle, with ways to fight inflammation and improve cognitive health, plus the latest advances in preventative medicine, diet and exercise, pain relief, blood pressure and cholesterol management, and more.

Harvard Health Publishing Logo

Health Alerts from Harvard Medical School

Get helpful tips and guidance for everything from fighting inflammation to finding the best diets for weight loss...from exercises to build a stronger core to advice on treating cataracts. PLUS, the latest news on medical advances and breakthroughs from Harvard Medical School experts.

BONUS! Sign up now and
get a FREE copy of the
Best Diets for Cognitive Fitness

Harvard Health Publishing Logo

Stay on top of latest health news from Harvard Medical School.

Plus, get a FREE copy of the Best Diets for Cognitive Fitness.