What is skin cancer?
Skin cancer is the most prevalent of all cancers, affecting over 1 million people every year. There are 3 common types of skin cancer:
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) This is the most common type of skin cancer. It typically appears as a pink or white translucent bump or a flat, scaly growth. The most common location is on the head and neck area, but other areas such as the hands, arms and back may be affected. These slow-growing tumors do not spread to other areas of the body, but if left untreated they can cause considerable local damage to the skin, cartilage, or bone.
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) These tumors appear as red, scaly bumps or patches most frequently found on the head and neck area or the hands and arms. This is the second most common type of skin cancer. When found early and treated, SCC is very curable. These tumors grow more rapidly than basal cell skin cancer, and are capable of metastasizing (spreading to other body areas).
Melanoma Melanoma is the deadliest of all skin cancers, but if treated early it is completely curable. 1 out of 40 people will develop melanoma during their lifetime. These tumors grow from the skin cells that give the skin its color, and the tumors are typically shades of brown, black, white, or even red. Some melanomas arise in an existing mole, but many arise spontaneously. Melanoma incidence peaks around age 40, and is uncommon prior to puberty. All moles should be monitored for changes in shape, size, color, sensation (pain, itching, stinging) or bleeding.
How can I recognize skin cancer?
Some skin cancers are quite noticeable while others are very subtle. In general, if you have a growth that is new and does not look like your other moles or growths, or if a spot is changing in size, texture, color, or is bleeding, itching, or painful, have the spot evaluated by a dermatologist. Anyone with a personal history of skin cancer or precancerous growths, a family history of melanoma, or many atypical appearing moles should have a yearly skin exam.
What causes skin cancer?
Most skin cancers are linked to a history of sun exposure and hereditary factors. Fair-skinned, fair-hair people with light-colored eyes are at a higher risk of all types of skin cancer compared to darker-skinned people. Chronic, long term sun exposure such as that which occurs in farmers or anyone with an outdoor occupation is thought more likely to trigger BCC and SCC, while intermittent blistering sunburns are related to the development of melanoma.
How is skin cancer treated?
BCC and SCC are most often surgically removed by curettage and electrodessication or surgical excision with sutures. Large tumors, tumors in certain locations, or tumors that recur after initial treatment may be treated by a surgical method known as Mohs surgery. Melanomas are surgically excised and may require additional evaluation and treatment.
What is a precancerous growth?
Actinic keratoses are small, red, scaly growths typically occurring on the face, ears, and hands of people who have had significant sun exposure. A small percentage of actinic keratosea will develop into squamous cell carcinoma if left untreated. Cryotherapy and topical treatments such as 5-fluorouracil, imiquimod or Picato are the primary methods of treatment.
How can I prevent skin cancer?
Sun avoidance is the key to skin cancer prevention. In most people 23 percent of lifetime sun exposure occurs in the first 18 years of life with another 10% more each decade. so make sun protection an early habit. In addition, it is important to protect yourself from the sun your entire life because sun exposure later in life may serve as a trigger for skin cancers on previously sun-damaged skin. Sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or greater should be worn daily. Avoid sun exposure between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm. Wear sun protective clothing such as a wide-brimmed hat, UV protective sunglasses, and a long-sleeved shirt. For those who are active outdoors, lightweight sun-protective clothing is available.