By Jennifer Garrick, FNP-BC DCNP
As a long-time nurse in the hospital and later in private practice, I have taken care of many patients dealing with breast cancer. Seeing their journeys, heroism, and strength have made me a better Nurse Practitioner. So I share my medical advice here to help those who have had breast cancer.
While Vanguard Skin Specialists may be a Colorado dermatology group, our dermatologists, dermatology PAs, and dermatology NPs take care of many breast cancer patients.
When someone has breast cancer, they usually seek our plastic surgery services first because Vanguard has a reputation for excellence in reconstructive breast surgery. Vanguard’s plastic surgeon, Dr. James Banich, partners with Colorado Springs breast surgeons for reconstructive surgery following breast cancer surgery. What may surprise breast cancer survivors, is that they also need to see our dermatology providers for follow up care.
Breast cancer is more common than you think. There were over 250,000 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed in the United States last year. Survivors of breast cancer are at elevated risk for certain other types of cancers according to the American Cancer Society. One of those cancers is melanoma. Risk of melanoma for breast cancer survivors is more than double that of the general population.
It is unclear why breast cancer has this link with melanoma, whether it is a genetic link or whether it is related to breast cancer treatment. We do know that patients who were under 50 years of age at the time of their diagnosis and those who received radiation therapy to treat their cancer seem to have the highest risk of melanoma.
Being a breast cancer survivor is only a risk factor for melanoma. It is among other risk factors which include the following:
- fair skin
- family history of melanoma
- tanning bed use
- large number of moles
- history of blistering sunburns
Patients will often ask me how they can reduce their melanoma risk. Obviously, we cannot control our genetics, and we can’t go back in time and undo the damage from previous sunburns or tanning bed use. You can, however, avoid excessive sun exposure going forward. I encourage my patients to use sunscreen everyday of at least SPF 30 and to avoid the sun during peak hours.
Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, because it can metastasize quickly, spreading throughout the body. I reassure patients though that when melanoma is found early, it is almost always treatable with excellent outcomes.
Thus, make sure you monitor your skin monthly for any new or changing moles. Consult a dermatologist if you see a mole that grows larger, changes color, bleeds, or just looks a lot different from your other moles, especially if it is relatively new.
In addition to the self skin checks, I and my dermatology colleagues recommend yearly total body skin exams to screen for skin cancer. We are trained to spot and diagnose concerning moles, including the melanomas which don’t have the classic ABCDE characteristics. An annual skin exam is recommended for all adults, and especially those who have the risk factors for melanoma or other types of skin cancer.
My hope is early diagnosis, because early diagnosis means early treatment and early cure. So, see your dermatologist or dermatology provider annually. We want you to have peace of mind.
Jennifer Garrick is an experienced dermatology nurse practitioner. She is part of Vanguard’s Colorado Springs dermatology office and Pueblo dermatology office.
Vanguard Skin Specialists began as a Colorado Springs dermatology practice and now has additional office in Canon City, Pueblo, and Woodland Park. Vanguard specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer, and also offers general dermatology, plastic surgery, and aesthetic medicine.