Skin Cancer – Causes, Signs and Solutions
Cancer can affect nearly every part of the human body, and with the skin being the largest external organ of the anatomy, it is the most susceptible to cancer.
The most common type of cancer is skin cancer, with about 9,500 people in the U.S. diagnosed every day. There are different types of skin cancer, each with different causes, symptoms, risks and treatments. To protect yourself, is it important to understand that UV, or ultraviolet rays from the sun inflict damage on the skin which can lead to skin cancer.
Who Is Vulnerable?
Normally, when someone goes outdoors and is exposed to UV rays, the skin produces melanin to protect itself. The tan that appears is a sign that your body is trying to shield you. However, fair-skinned people are most vulnerable to sun exposure as they don’t produce as much melanin as those with darker complexions. As their skin is innately unable to protect them, a sunburn results. Even one bad sunburn is enough to put someone at risk, which is why it is important to protect yourself from a very early age. Additionally, those who are prone to moles are also more inclined to develop skin cancer. It is important to understand that even those with dark complexions can develop skin cancer so everyone, regardless of skin tone, must remain cautious.
Symptoms and Types of Skin Cancer
While most types of skin cancer can be prevented and treated, some can be deadly, making vigilance against all forms of skin cancer paramount to living a long, healthy life.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
When you feel a roughly textured bump with a lump beneath it, you may have a squamous cell carcinoma. It can also manifest as a tender volcano-like bump with a central crater, that is called a keratocanthoma. These usually don’t metastasize, but those on the central face, ears or lips can spread to the lymph glands if not addressed. If it stays on the top layer of the skin, it is Squamous Cell Carcinoma-In-Situ, or Bowen’s Disease.
Basa Cell Carcinoma
This is the most typical, curable form of cancers, with 1.5 million cases every year. It starts as small sores that fail to heal, or pearl-like bumps with small blood vessels. It can also appear as a small scar, rash or pimple that fails to go away. This often occurs on the ears, eyes, lips, nose or other body parts and while it doesn’t spread, can penetrate deeply and cause disfigurement.
These rough, surface patches appear on skin that has had sun exposure. While tending to be sensitive or tender, with a gritty texture, these are pre-malignant. Liquid nitrogen or topical prescription creams are used to eradicate these pre-cancerous sites. These are not to be ignored as some may turn into other skin cancers.
Melanoma is the fifth most commonly seen type of cancer affecting people today. Getting early diagnosis and treatment of this form of skin cancer is crucial as it can spread to other organs (metastasize), making it potentially deadly. This form of skin cancer affects males and females equally, with about 10,000 people dying from it each year. This equates to one person every hour!
With every sunburn your risk of developing skin cancer increases, with five sunburns doubling the risk of developing melanoma.
The goal with regular checks is to catch skin cancers early, and remove them before they spread. Otherwise, treatment can be more extensive and require care from an oncologist and general surgeon. Often times the depth of the melanoma and the amount of skin that is removed leads many to seek help from plastic surgeons to reconstruct the damaged area.
Check It Out
An annual skin check by a dermatologist is recommended for everyone, regardless of skin color or risk factor, as no one is immune from skin cancer. But, if you are high risk for melanoma with fair skin and a history of more years in the sun than you can count, this annual visit needs to be a serious health priority on your calendar. Your life depends on it!
Here are some additional risk factors for melanoma:
Sensitivity to the sun
More than 50 moles, with a tendency to unusual moles
Family history of melanoma (this includes siblings, parents or children)
Two or more intense sunburns that blistered before the age of 16
Pronounced sun exposure for short durations such as vacations or weekends
If the above applies to you, monthly self-checks are recommended. Many people mistakenly assume they can wait on starting annual checks, believing that only older people get melanoma. The fact is that 50% of melanoma cases appear in those under the age of 57, even children.
When a melanoma is caught early, at the localized stage, the 5-year survival rate is 98%. So, if you suspect something is amiss, use these ABCDE’s before your annual skin check:
Asymmetry of outline
Diameter greater than 6 mm (larger than a pencil eraser)
If you see an asymmetrical mole, with an irregular border, color and size that appears to change, bleed, or feel itchy or tender, get it checked out immediately. Should something look suspicious, your doctor should do a biopsy for a pathologist to inspect.
Hint: Benign moles tend to be symmetrical with an oval or circular shape and smaller size.
Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about medication(s) you take as half of most medications can make you susceptible to sunburns.
Livewell.org John Stoddard Cancer Center, Des Moines, May 2, 2019
“25 Skin Cancer Facts that will Make You Never Forget to Wear Sunscreen Again”
Radiance By Web MD “Choosing Skin Care Products: Know Your Ingredients”
AAD.org American Academy of Dermatology, “Skin Cancer”
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