Did you know that one in five Americans will develop some form of skin cancer in their lifetime? One American dies every hour from Melanoma. Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers and is directly related to ultraviolet exposure. Has it been more than a year since your last skin cancer screening? It is recommended that a full body examination be performed at least once per year.
Fair-skinned individuals who sunburn easily are at a particularly high risk for developing skin cancer. Other important risk factors include use of tanning devices, family history, repeated medical and industrial x-ray exposure, immunosuppression, scarring from diseases or burns, and occupational exposure to compounds such as coal, tar, and arsenic.
ACTINIC KERATOSES (AK)
AKs (or solar keratoses) are considered the earliest stage in the development of certain skin cancers. They are small, scaly spots most commonly found on the face, the ears, the neck, the forearms, the scalp of bald men, and back of the hands in fair-skinned individuals who have had significant sun exposure. AKs can be treated by cryosurgery (freezing using liquid nitrogen), topical chemotherapy (applying a cream or lotion), chemical peeling, dermabrasion, laser surgery, electrodessication and curettage (ED&C-alternately scarping and burning the tumor), photodynamic therapy (a chemical applied to the skin is exposed to a light source), or other dermatologic surgical procedures.
Some AKs may progress to advanced stages that require more extensive treatment. Proper use of sunscreens can help prevent AKs even after extensive sun damage has already occurred.
BASAL CELL CARCINOMA (BCC)
BCC is the most common type of skin cancer; it occurs most frequently on the head and neck, with the rest mainly on the trunk and lower limbs, and often appears as a fleshy bump, nodule, or red patch. BCCs are frequently found in fair-skinned people and rarely occur in dark-skinned individuals. BCCs usually do not grow quickly, but this does not mean treatment should be delayed. While BCCs rarely metastasize (spread) to other organs, if untreated, the cancer often will begin to repeatedly bleed and crust over, and can extend below the skin to the bone and nerves causing considerable damage.
SQUAMOUS CELL CARCINOMA (SCC)
SCC is the second most common skin cancer; it is primarily found in fair-skinned people and rarely in dark-skinned individuals. Typically located on the rim of the ear, face, near the mouth or the trunk, this cancer may appear as a firm bump, or as a red, scaly patch. SCCs can develop into large masses and become invasive, leading to extensive tissue destruction and possible risk of metastasis. Therefore, it is important to get early treatment.
When detected and treated early, the cure rate for both BCC and SCC approaches 95 percent.
Malignant Melanoma is the most deadly of all skin cancers. Every year, more than 8,000 Americans will die from melanoma; it is projected that 100,000 Americans will develop melanoma annually.
Melanoma beings in melanocyte, the cells throughout the skin that produce the pigment called melanin which makes the skin tan; clusters of melanocyte are what make up moles. Melanoma may appear suddenly or begin in or near a mole, or another dark spot in the skin. Is it important to know the location and appearance of the moles on the body to detect changes early. Since melanoma cells can continue to produce melanin, this skin cancer often appears in mixed shades of tan, brown, and black; although, it can also be red or white.
Any changing mole must be examined by a dermatologist. Early melanoma can be removed while still in the curable stage; melanoma readily metastasizes, making early detection and treatment essential to increase survival rates. Excessive sun exposure, especially sunburn, is the most important preventable risk factor for melanoma. Fair-skinned individuals are at particular risk, but heredity also plays a part. A person has an increased chance of developing melanoma if a relative or close family member has had melanoma. Atypical moles, which may also run in families, and having a large number of moles can also serve as markers for people at increased risk for developing melanoma.
Dark skin is not a guarantee against melanoma. People with skin of color can develop melanoma, especially on the palms, soles, under the nails, in the mouth, or on the genitalia.
EARLY DETECTION IS KEY
Develop a regular routine to inspect your body for skin changes. If a growth, mole, sore or skin discoloration appears suddenly, or begins to change, see a dermatologist. It is wise to have an annual skin examination by a dermatologist, especially for adults with significant past sun exposure, a family history of skin cancer, or other known risk factors.
WARNING SIGNS OF MELANOMA INCLUDE:
- Changes in the surface of a mole.
- Scaliness, oozing, or bleeding from an existing mole or the appearance of a new mole that looks different from others.
- Spread of pigment from the border of a mole into surrounding skin.
- Change in sensation including itchiness, tenderness, or pain.
THE ABCDE’S OF MELANOMA
Asymmetry – One half unlike the other half
Border – Irregular, scalloped or poorly defined border
Color – Varied from one area to another; shades of tan and brown, black; sometimes white, red or blue.
Diameter – While melanomas are usually greater than 6mm (the size of a pencil eraser) when diagnosed, they can be smaller.
Evolving – A mole or skin lesion that looks different from the rest or is changes in size, shape or color.