Skin cancers are cancers that originate in the skin. They are the most common form of cancer in the United States. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer. There are more new cases of skin cancer each year than the combined incidence of breast, prostate, lung and colon cancers.
What causes skin cancers?
Exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun and tanning beds cause the vast majority of skin cancers. Ultraviolet light damages the DNA (building blocks) of skin cells causing genetic defects. These defects cause the cells to multiple rapidly and in a bizarre fashion, leading to the formation of a malignant tumor.
Who is at risk for skin cancer?
All of us are at risk for skin cancer. People with light skin are at a higher risk as are people with poor immune function or people on anti-rejection drugs following an organ transplant. People of color are not totally exempt. Asians, Filipinos, Hispanics and African Americans can develop skin cancers from chronic exposure to ultraviolet light. Nobody gets a free ride.
Are there different types of skin cancers?
There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and malignant melanoma (MM).
Basal cell carcinoma
This the most common form of skin cancer. Usually BCC forms on areas of skin frequently exposed to the sun such as face, scalp, ears, neck, hands and arms. Basal cell carcinoma usually grows slowly and may appear as:
~~~~~a painless raised area of skin that may or may not appear to have small blood vessels running through them.
~~~~~an open sore that bleeds easily and may appear to heal but then returns.
~~~~~reddish patch of skin that does not heal; it may itch.
~~~~~flesh colored (pink, red or brown) lumps; they may appear “pearly.”
~~~~~scar like area that may be flat, lighter in color than the surrounding skin and may appear taut and shiny.
Basal cell carcinomas are easily treated in their early stages. They rarely metastasize and rarely cause death. But they can cause destruction and damage to surrounding tissue. BCC’s are best treated by surgical removal.
Squamous cell carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common form of skin cancer. Though they can occur on all areas of the body including genitals and mucous membranes, they occur most commonly on areas of the skin frequently exposed to the sun. SCC can grow deeply if left untreated and it can spread to other parts of the body. This makes SCC dangerous and deadly. Here are warning signs of SCC:
~~~~~a wart like growth that feels rough and scaly; it may bleed easily.
~~~~~an open sore that bleeds and lasts for weeks.
~~~~~a lump with a central depression that bleeds and may grow in size quickly.
~~~~~a red, scaly patch that bleeds and crusts.
Squamous cell carcinomas are almost always curable if surgically removed early. Remember, this cancer can invade deeply and spread to other parts of the body. A dermatologist should see the suspicious area promptly.
Malignant melanoma is the least common, but most deadly, form of skin cancer. In the United States the incidence is steadily increasing. It is the most common form of cancer for women 25-29 years of age and the second most common cancer in women 15-29 years of age. Melanoma accounts for the vast majority of skin cancer deaths. One person dies of melanoma every hour. Melanoma often occurs in an existing mole or looks like a new mole. Early detection of changes in your moles is key to diagnosing and treating melanoma. When treated early, it is usually curable.
Warning signs are:
~~~~~a mole that is changing in size, shape, or color (a small number of melanomas are pink, red or flesh colored).
~~~~~a mole that itches or bleeds.
~~~~~a new dark spot that may itch or bleed.
One blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence can double the chance of developing melanoma later in life. Regular daily use of sunscreen with an SPF of 15 can decrease the chance of melanoma by 50%. The first step in treating melanoma is EARLY DETECTION.
How can I best protect my skin?
The best protection is the daily use of sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. This applies to cloudy days and even in winter. If you are working or playing outside where perspiration or water is involved, it is recommended to reapply the sunscreen every 2 hours. Our motto is: don’t leave home without it. Try to minimize your exposure during the most intense sun time of 10 AM to 3PM. Wear protective clothing–long sleeves, a hat with a wide brim to protect your ears, and pants to cover your legs. Thin materials may give little to no protection. Stop the use of tanning beds and spread the education to all you love.