Not all skin cancers are created equal nor are the risks each person holds for developing it.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States – one in five Americans will be diagnosed with it in their lifetime, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). However, the prevalence of the disease doesn’t always equate to one’s proper understanding of how to spot skin cancer or their knowledge of what places them at a higher risk.
There are three main types of skin cancer including melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Each presents itself in a different way and carries with it a different type of risk to someone’s health.
“Skin cancer such as melanoma can be life-threatening. It has the potential to spread to other organs and even cause death,” says Scott Wilcher, MD, of North Dayton Surgeons. “Skin cancer such as basal cell carcinoma is rarely ever fatal or spread to other places but can be locally invasive and cause large surgeries. The same holds true for squamous cell carcinoma, however, it does have the potential of spreading.”
Individuals who are at a higher risk for developing skin cancer include those who have experienced sun burns, have participated in indoor tanning, have a family history of skin cancer, individuals with moles or freckles and those with a certain skin complexion that may be fairer, the AAD says. Knowing the risk factors can make someone more aware of how often they need to be screened by a physician.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation (SCF), skin cancer is most treatable when it is found early. Frequent and careful evaluation of one’s own skin is the best way to identify spots that are cancerous or have the potential for becoming cancerous. The AAD says identifying skin cancer can be as easy as knowing the first five letters of the alphabet – ABCDE:
Asymmetry – Moles or skin lesions that have uneven edges should raise red flags.
Border – A skin lesion should be smooth and not irregular.
Color – Speckled and multi-colored moles should be evaluated.
Diameter – Melanoma’s are often greater than 6mm in diameter.
Evolve – A mole that evolves over time in color or size can be cause for concern.
Thankfully, skin cancer can be curable if caught early. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends the following steps to prevent skin cancer:
Stay in the shade – Seek shelter from the sun during peak hours, which are 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Otherwise, cover up your skin with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
Avoid burns – Do everything possible to avoid sunburns. Use broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant spectrum screen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Apply two tablespoons of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
Say no to tanning beds – A recent study published in the American Medical Association (JAMA Dermatology) says there is an association between the drastically rising rates of melanoma among young adults, especially women, and their use of tanning beds.
Screen yourself regularly – Examine yourself head-to-toe every month. Be especially diligent with areas such as the back where the skin can easily go unchecked. Ask someone you feel comfortable with to examine these areas of your body. Record its measurement and use that to re-evaluate it in a couple of months.
Conduct a yearly skin check – Those who are at high-risk for skin cancer should find a physician they trust to conduct a yearly skin check. Physicians are trained to look for signs that may merit a biopsy or continued monitoring of the area.
For more information on skin cancer or to find a Premier Health Specialists physician near you, visit www.premierhealthspecialists.com/generalsurgery.
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