A close up of a man's smile is a reminder that skin cancer can occur anywhere, even on the lips.

More Than Just Paying Lip Service

Do any of you have friends who seem to notice everything about you? “Is that a new shirt?” “Have you lost weight?” “Are those transition lenses?” These people are awesome because they make you realize that at least somebody notices you. I don’t mind these kinds of friends, especially when they point out that remnant of spinach caught between your incisors. I bet talk show host Andy Cohen is glad that he has friends like this.

A story of melanoma on the lip

Specifically, he is happy that he has another talk show host, Kelly Ripa, as a friend. In a recent article Cohen related how Kelly Ripa noticed that he had a dark spot on his lip and advised him to get it checked out immediately. He took her advice and found out that he had malignant melanoma. He had the melanoma removed and now credits his friend with saving his life.1

Is lip melanoma really a thing?

Cohen admitted to having had that dark spot on his lip for a while and it wasn’t until Ripa said something that he did something. Who can blame him really? Lip melanoma? It can pop up there, too? Is nothing sacred? Yes, it’s a thing. Ever since I was a young boy, I was instructed to put on lip balm to protect against chapped lips or some other terrible malady of the lips. But, melanoma?

Warning signs and symptoms for melanoma on the lip

According to one of the leading cancer hospitals in the country, Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York, lip cancers, including melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma can develop in the thin, flat cells called squamous cells that cover the lips and mouth and are can be caused by tobacco use, overconsumption of alcohol, and prolonged sun exposure.2

Common symptoms of these types of lip cancers include:

According to the hospital those at higher risk are:

  • fairly-complected people
  • males
  • being over 40
  • those infected with the human papillomavirus2

Get checked regularly

But what if you don’t have any super aware friends who look at your lips? I have noticed that my dentist now regularly checks for oral cancer both inside my mouth and on my lips. This is one advantage of needing a bit of dental work (the only advantage). So, between my friends who seem to notice everything and my dentist, I hope to remain lip cancer-free. But, what if I need treatment?

Saving your smile

One fear that I have regarding any cancers on my face are related to my look and my acting career. Current microsurgical procedures, such as Mohs can remove cancerous tissues in layers so as to disturb as little of the lip as possible. For more extensive surgeries, patients can benefit from the latest in plastic surgery techniques and with post-surgical rehabilitation to help with speaking and eating.

How can I prevent melanoma on the lips

I protect my lips like I protect any other part of my skin. I try to stay out of direct sunlight and I use lip balm with an SPF of at least 30. I carry a small tube with me all the time and I reapply often because it can come off while eating, talking, swimming, or exercising. Unlike sunscreen lotion, the cosmetic industry has been providing lip care products for decades and it comes in a variety of looks and flavors, and more recently, sun protection. So, there is really no excuse not to be protected and “don’t give me any lip” about that.

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