About a million people in the U.S. are diagnosed with skin cancer every year. According to current estimates, 40 to 50 percent of Americans who live to age 65 will have skin cancer at least once in their lifetime. Although anyone can get skin cancer, the risks are greatly increased if you have fair skin that freckles easily — often with red or blond hair and blue or lightcolored eyes. Fortunately, even though skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, it is not the reason for most cancer deaths.
Types of Skin Cancer
The two most common kinds of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma — often called non-melanoma skin cancer. Basal cell carcinoma accounts for more than 90 percent of all skin cancers in the U.S. It is a slow-growing cancer that seldom spreads to other parts of the body. Squamous cell carcinoma also rarely spreads, but does so more often than basal cell carcinoma. Melanoma is another type of cancer that occurs in the skin in the melanocytes or the pigment cells. Of the three, melanoma is the most aggressive, and with metastasis can result in death.
Causes of Skin Cancer
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is the main cause of skin cancers. Even artificial sources of UV radiation, such as sunlamps and tanning beds, have been linked to causes of skin cancer. People who live in areas that get high levels of UV radiation from the sun are more likely to get skin cancer. And, as you guessed, in fair skin colored people. Most skin cancer appears after age 50, but the sun’s damaging effects begin at an early age. Therefore, protection should start in childhood. Protective clothing such as sun hats and long sleeves can block out the sun’s harmful rays. Also, lotions that contain sunscreen can protect the skin. Sunscreens are rated in strength according to a sun protection factor (SPF) which ranges from 2 to 30 or higher. Those rated 15 to 30 block most of the sun’s harmful rays.
Skin Cancer Treatment
Surgery is often used as a treatment for skin cancer. There are several types of surgery depending on the stage and location of the cancer. Shave biopsy — simple excision and formal excision of suspicious skin lesions — are the first steps for diagnosis and treatment. Management of skin cancer is based on the cell type, location of the tumor and extent of the tumor. Superficial skin cancers can often be “cured” by surgical excision alone. Dysplastic or abnormal appearing moles are sampled using a scalpel. The skin sample is sent off for a more detailed microscopic control so it can be determined whether all cancer has been removed.
When the doctor suspects a cancer has gone beyond stage 0, samples of the nearest lymph nodes may also be taken using a biopsy. The surgery is normally done using local anesthetic as an in-office procedure. The removed moles or skin samples will be analyzed and if they prove to be melanoma cancer, it may be necessary to have a second surgical operation to remove the entire melanoma, including some of the health skin around it to allow for safety margin. Possible treatments for advanced melanoma tumors are chemotherapy or radiation. At least 80 to 90 percent of all patients who have been diagnosed with a melanoma cancer can be cured with a good prognosis.
Develop a regular routine to inspect your body for any skin changes. If any growth, mole, sore or skin discoloration appears suddenly or begins to change, see a surgeon. Each of the skin cancer types can be treated if detected early.
Symptoms of Skin Cancer
The ABCs of skin cancer include:
A – Asymmetry. You should notice the general look of your moles or growth. For example, if one half of the mole or growth does not match the other half.
B – Border irregularity. If the edges of the growth are ragged, notched or blurred.
C – Color. The pigmentation of the growth is not uniform. Shades of tan, brown and black are present. Dashes of red, white and blue add to the mottled appearance.
D – Diameter. A width greater than six millimeters (about the size of a pencil eraser), can be an indicator of an abnormal skin growth. Generally, any new mole growth or non-healing skin ulcer should be a concern.