Skin Cancer

More than one million skin cancers are diagnosed annually and one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime. Skin cancer is a malignant tumor that grows in the skin cells It can occur on the head, neck area, backs of hands and forearms and any other areas often not protected from sun exposure. There are three types of skin cancers: Basal Cell Carcinoma, Squamous Cell Carcinoma and Malignant Melanoma.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. It is estimated that more than one million Americans develop skin cancer every year. Fair-skinned people who sunburn easily are at a particularly high risk for developing skin cancer. Majority of skin cancers are caused by excessive sunlight.

The most common types of skin cancer include basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and malignant melanoma (MM). Even more common than these cancers is actinic keratoses (AK), which usually presents as multiple rough scaly skin lesions and are considered pre-malignant growths appearing on sun exposed skin areas. These lesions have the potential to progress to squamous cell carcinoma.

Types of Skin Cancer:

Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) is the most common type of skin cancer but also the least aggressive with very little potential to spread to other areas of the body. If left untreated, they may enlarge, ulcerate, bleed and destroy local tissue in the area. They appear as shiny bumps or scaly, red patches predominantly in area of the body that has received significant sun exposure.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common type of skin cancer. These grow more rapidly than basal cell carcinoma and have potential to metastasize (spread to other areas of the body). They appear more commonly on sun exposed sites as tender red enlarging lumps.

Malignant Melanoma is the most deadly of all skin cancers. The incidence of this cancer is increasing and every year, over 8,000 Americans will die from melanoma. The death rate has been kept in check because melanoma is usually curable when detected in its early stages and patients are seeking help sooner. Melanoma may appear suddenly or begin in or near a mole. Melanomas often appear as pigmented lesions that are asymmetrical with irregular borders, variegated color and larger than 6 mm in diameter. Other warning signs include:

Changes in the surface of a mole.
Scaly, oozing, bleeding or appearance of a new bump in a mole.
Spread of pigment from the border of a mole into the surrounding skin.
Change in sensation including itchiness, tenderness or pain in a mole.

 You can download the American Academy of Dermatology’s Body Mole Map to document your self examination.

Body Mole Map ( jpg file)                                    Body Mole Map (PDF file)

Treatment Options:

Skin Cancer is treated by surgical removal and has a high cure rate if caught early. Melanoma is serious and if left untreated can spread and often lead to death.

SKIN PROTECTION TIPS FROM THE AAD The American Academy of Dermatology recommends the following eight precautions to lessen the chance of developing skin cancer:

MINIMIZE SUN EXPOSURE especially during the peak sun hours between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM when the sun’s rays are the most intense.

APPLY SUNSCREEN LIBERALLY AND FREQUENTLY and reapply every two hours when working, playing or exercising outdoors. Sunscreens with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 15 are recommended for protection against skin cancer and premature aging of the skin. Even on cloudy days, this precaution should be followed.

WEAR APPROPRIATE CLOTHING during prolonged periods in the sun, including a hat, a long-sleeved shirt and full-length pants (not shorts).

BEWARE OF REFLECTIVE SURFACES such as sand, snow, concrete and water, which can reflect up to 85% of the sun’s damaging rays.

AVOID TANNING SALONS AND SUNLAMPS since the ultraviolet rays emitted by these artificial sources are similar to those in sunlight and can cause sunburn, premature aging of the skin and increased risk of skin cancer.

PROTECT CHILDREN by keeping them out of the sun or minimizing sun exposure and by applying sunscreens frequently, beginning at six months of age.

TEACH CHILDREN AND TEENAGERS SUN PROTECTION, since sun exposure damage accumulates over the course of a lifetime. One severe childhood or adolescent sunburn will double the risks of developing skin cancer.

EXAMINE YOUR SKIN AND YOUR CHILDREN’S REGULARLY for any changes in moles, freckles or skin discoloration.

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