Hugh Jackman recently revealed in an Instagram video that he is wearing a nose bandage due to a skin cancer scare and advised people to wear sunscreen — especially as summer approaches in the Northern Hemisphere.
The Australian actor, known for his role as Wolverine in the X-Men film universe, is awaiting test results after having two biopsies. His doctor said it “could be or could not be basal cell,” Jackman said.
Basal cell carcinoma, a slow-growing cancer that is the most common type in humans, typically occurs on sun-damaged skin. Jackman noted that basal cell carcinoma is “the least dangerous of them all,” and there are ways to treat it. The best way to prevent skin cancer is to limit sun exposure and wear sunscreen.
“If I could just take this opportunity to remind you summer is coming for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere,” Jackman added. “Please wear sunscreen. It is just not worth it. No matter how much you want to tan. Trust me. Trust me. Trust me.”
This isn’t the first time Jackman has reminded people to wear their sunscreen in an Instagram post. In 2013, Jackman revealed he had basal cell carcinoma on his nose, adding, “Get yourself checked. And USE sunscreen!!!”
Similarly, Khloé Kardashian recently had two biopsies after noticing a small bump on her cheek that wouldn’t go away, wearing a bandage as it healed. However, unlike Jackman, Kardashian has a history of melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer. She was diagnosed and treated for a melanoma on her back at 19.
Around 80% of skin cancers are basal cell carcinomas, affecting close to 1 in 5 Americans. The condition is highly treatable and is less likely than other types of cancer to spread to other areas of the body.
We asked dermatologists about the early warning signs of basal cell cancer, risk factors, prevention, and treatment, including the importance of wearing sunscreen and getting skin cancer screenings.
Here are the early warning signs
Basal cell cancers occur due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Chronic exposure to UV rays from the sun is the greatest risk factor, especially in early childhood and adolescence.
“This is all stuff that happened 25 years ago. It’s coming out now. Put some sunscreen on. You’ll still have an incredible time out there. Alright. Please be safe,” Jackman ended the video.
Other risk factors include indoor tanning, a history of skin cancer, being over 50 years old, fair skin, and having chronic infections and skin inflammations, including burns and scars.
There’s no such thing as a healthy tan, Hadley King, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York, told BuzzFeed News, even if there’s no sunburn.
“Tanning is a defense mechanism that gets turned on when the DNA of skin cells is getting damaged by UV radiation,” King said. “Both suntans and sunburns result from DNA damage that can pave the way to skin cancer.”
Basal cell cancer is most likely to occur in parts of the body that are most often exposed to the sun, including the face, neck, and arms. However, the symptoms can vary from person to person and the type of skin cancer.
Basal cell cancers can look like a shiny bump that could be red, white or clear, or black or brown in people with darker skin tones; a sore filled with fluid that oozes, crusts, or bleeds; a shiny or scaly area of skin that looks like scar tissue; or even one that has pigmented areas or dark spots that look blue or gray in color and could be mistaken for a melanoma.
Unlike other skin patches or sores, skin cancers fail to heal, Elizabeth Geddes-Bruce, a board-certified dermatologist from Westlake Dermatology in Austin, told BuzzFeed News. “They can be itchy or painful, pink, or brown,” she said. “Basal cell carcinomas often tend to be light pink or clear, and may bleed.”
If left untreated, there is a possibility that basal cell carcinoma can expand to other areas of the body. However, the spread is rare with this type of skin cancer. Common treatment options include different types of surgery, such as curettage or scraping to remove the skin tumor. Rarely do people need radiation therapy or chemotherapy for basal cell carcinoma.
The importance of SPF
Since wearing sunscreen can reduce skin damage and skin cancers, finding one that protects your skin, even on days that aren’t sunny, can be helpful in prevention.
“It is so important to practice sun safety on an everyday basis, and I think that it's often skipped because people think it's only important on days that are particularly sunny and they'll be spending a significant amount of time in the sun,” King said. “Some think the products are unpleasant to use — that they will smell like coconuts or have a white pasty appearance. The good news is that there are great, elegant products available these days that are very easy to integrate into your everyday routine.”
The FDA recommends using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher on all uncovered skin, especially the nose, ears, neck, hands, feet, and lips. The highest SPF is over 50, protecting against UV light.
It’s also important to reapply sunscreen every two hours after swimming or sweating, letting it sit on your body for 30 minutes.
Skin cancer screenings can save lives
You should have a full-body check for skin cancer at least once a year, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, and more often if you have risk factors.
If a suspicious lesion is found, your doctor can biopsy it in several different ways:
- A shave biopsy: For these biopsies, doctors use a sharp blade to take off the top layer of the skin for testing. It’s mainly done for non-melanoma cancers.
- A punch biopsy: This is a procedure where a doctor uses a circular instrument to remove a piece of tissue.
- An excision: In this type of biopsy, a cut is made through the skin to remove an entire lump to be examined for signs of cancer.
“Skin cancer screenings absolutely save lives,” Geddes-Bruce said. “We often don't spend enough time getting to know our bodies and fail to notice a changing or suspicious spot. A board-certified dermatologist can do this for you and catch skin cancers or pre-cancers early while they are still easily treatable.”
In between skin cancer screenings, King recommends doing a monthly self-exam, from head to toe, looking for any suspicious lesions.
“I recommend that this should be done completely undressed, in front of a full-length mirror, with a handheld mirror, in an area with good lighting,” King said. “It's extremely important to know your skin very well so you will recognize if there are spots that are new or changing. Some derms recommend doing this on your birthday and every month on that day, to help you remember — check your birthday suit on your birthday.”