According to the American Cancer Society, substantially more than 1 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the United States every year. Current estimates are that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. One American dies of melanoma almost every hour. With early detection and treatment, skin cancer can be effectively treated and cured.
Although sun exposure is the most preventable risk factor for all skin cancers, including melanoma, there are many ways to decrease your risk of skin cancer.
- Use sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 30 to all exposed skin. “Broad-spectrum” provides protection from both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. Reapply approximately every two hours, even on cloudy days, and after swimming or sweating.
- Wear protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses, where possible.
- Seek shade when appropriate. Remember that the sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If your shadow is shorter than you are, seek shade.
- Protect children from sun exposure by playing in the shade, wearing protective clothing, and applying sunscreen.
- Use extra caution near water, snow, and sand because they reflect the damaging rays of the sun, which can increase your chance of sunburn.
- Get vitamin D safely through a healthy diet that may include vitamin supplements. Don’t seek the sun.
- Avoid tanning beds. Ultraviolet light from the sun and tanning beds can cause skin cancer and wrinkling. If you want to look like you’ve been in the sun, consider using a sunless self-tanning product, but continue to use sunscreen with it.
- Perform routine skin examinations. If you notice anything changing, growing, or bleeding on your skin, make an appointment immediately for a full body skin examination.
Early detection of skin cancer is the key to effective treatment. Performing self examinations, paired with routine in-office skin cancer screenings is a necessary part of your regular health care regime. We recommend annual routine skin examinations for people who do not have a history of skin cancer. If you have had a non- melanoma skin cancer, we recommend having your skin checked every six months. If there is a history of melanoma, we suggest more frequent skin examinations every three to four months. When you come in to our office for your routine skin examination, one of our practitioners will examine the skin over your entire body, looking for suspicious growths, moles, or lesions. The examination is performed using a bright light and a magnifying lens. The scalp is examined by parting the hair. A dermatoscope may be used to see spots on the skin more clearly. If a biopsy is performed, your results will typically come in within 3 to 7 days. You will receive a call from our office letting you know the results and your treatment options if necessary.
- Asymmetry: If one half on the mole appears unlike the other half.
- Border: If the border of the mole is irregular, scalloped or poorly defined.
- Color: If the color of the mole varies from one area to another; shades of tan and brown, black; sometimes white, red or blue.
- Diameter: Melanomas are usually greater than 6mm which is comparable to the size of a pencil eraser.
- Evolving: If a mole or a skin lesion looks different from the rest, or if it is changing in color, shape or size.
Self Examination Diagram
Types of Skin Cancer
Actinic Keratoses, also known as solar keratoses, are considered the earliest stage in the development of skin cancer. They are small, scaly spots most commonly found on the face, ears, neck, forearms, scalp, and backs of the hands in fair-skinned individuals who have had significant sun exposure. Actinic keratoses may progress to advanced stages that require more extensive procedures if left untreated.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Basal Cell Carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer worldwide. In the majority of cases, it is thought to be caused by exposure to the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun. Basal cell carcinomas appear most often on sun exposed areas such as the face, scalp, ears, chest, back and legs. Most commonly it appears as a small, dome-shaped, pimple-like, pinkish, growth. It can also appear as a re-occurring sore that seems to heal and comes back. Left untreated, basal cell carcinoma infiltrates the surrounding area destroying tissue.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous Cell Carcinoma is the second most common cancer of the skin commonly affecting middle-aged and elderly people with fair complexions and frequent sun exposure. Some squamous cell carcinomas arise from small sandpaper-like lesions called solar or actinic keratoses. It usually appears as crusted or scaly patches on the skin with a red, inflamed base, a growing tumor, or a non-healing ulcer. Although they can occur anywhere on the body, they are generally found in sun-exposed areas like the face, neck, arms, scalp, backs of the hands and ears. Squamous cell carcinoma can metastasize or spread in the bloodstream to other organs, therefore early treatment is important.
Malignant Melanoma is the most deadly of all skin cancers. Every year, more than 8,000 Americans will die from melanoma. Melanoma may appear suddenly or begin in or near a mole, or another dark spot in the skin. Melanoma can occur anywhere on the skin or the nails, even in places not directly exposed to the sun like the eyes, mucous membranes (mouth and genitals), or internal organs, but is most commonly found on the backs of men and the legs of women. Although anyone can get melanoma it usually affects fair skinned individuals who have more than 50 moles, a history of sunburns, and close relatives who have had melanoma. Usually, melanoma is brown or black in color, but sometimes, though rare, may be red, skin-colored, or white. It can arise from a pre-existing mole, or appear on previously normal skin. Melanoma can grow down into the skin, ultimately reaching the blood and lymphatic vessels, and spread around the body (metastasize), causing a life-threatening illness.
Reprinted with permission from the American Academy of Dermatology. All rights reserved.
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