Skin Cancer / Melanoma
The skin is the largest organ in the body and is composed of several cell types. Our skin protects from heat, injury and infection. It also stores water and fat and makes vitamin D.
The incidence of skin cancer is higher than prostate, lung, breast, colon, uterine, ovarian and pancreatic cancer combined. More than 90% of all skin cancer cases are a result of sun exposure.
There are two main types of skin cancer: Melanoma and non-melanomas. The most common type of skin cancer is non-melanoma, which rarely spreads and is less likely to cause death. However, some scarring may occur. Basal cell carcinoma and Squamous cell skin cancer are the most common non-melanoma skin cancers. Other non-melanoma skin cancers are porocarcinoma, Merkel cell carcinoma, and cutaneous lymphoma.
Melanoma is the most serious of skin cancers with almost 60,000 new diagnoses each year and annually causing almost 8,000 deaths.
Melanoma is much more serious than non-melanomas and has the ability to spread. According to the American Cancer Society, most melanomas are curable in the early stages, so self-examinations and physician visits are key to detecting skin cancer before it advances and spreads.
The best way, to detect melanoma is by continually examining your skin, especially moles. Melanoma may be found in several places including:
- The back; buttocks; legs; scalp; neck; behind the ears; soles of feet; palms; inside the mouth; genitalia and underneath nails.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), approximately 20 to 40 percent of melanomas develop from a mole. You should talk to your doctor about moles that are asymmetrical (not an even shape), have a border, have a mix of colors—especially red, white or blue—are more than 6 millimeters in diameter (about the size of a pencil eraser), bleed, itch or change in size over time.
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Melanoma is not as common as other types of skin cancer. However, the rate of melanoma is steadily increasing. The risk of developing melanoma increases with age. However, it is also frequently seen in young people.
You are more likely to develop melanoma if you:
- Have fair skin, blue or green eyes, or red or blond hair
- Live in sunny climates or at high altitudes
- Spent a lot of time in high levels of strong sunlight, because of a job or other activities
- Have had one or more blistering sunburns during childhood
- Use tanning devices
Other risk factors include:
- Close relatives with a history of melanoma
- Certain types of moles (atypical or dysplastic) or multiple birthmarks
- Weakened immune system due to disease or medication
Ultraviolet rays wreak havoc on our skin. Immediately, it can cause sunburn including such symptoms as redness, swelling, blisters, fever, chills, and even nausea. Long-term exposure can cause wrinkles, freckles, dark patches, actinic keratoses, eye problems and even a suppressed immune system.
All of these results of sun exposure and even skin cancer is preventable. Despite the warnings, many Americans do not follow the guidelines from the experts. In fact, the Skin Cancer Foundation (SCF) reports that fewer than 33 percent of Americans including children, adolescents and adults routinely use sun protection.
No one is immune to the sun’s effects. The incidence of melanoma continues to rise in women under 40. It also tends to affect men over the age of 50. The AAD states that African-Americans, Latinos, and Asians are less likely to develop melanoma, but it also is most deadly for them.
Although anyone can develop skin cancer, some people are at higher risk including:
- Those with light skin, hair or eye color
- A family or personal history of skin cancer
- Chronic exposure to the sun
- Sunburns early in life
- Specific types of moles and freckles.
With skin cancer being the most common form of cancer and an increasing number of diagnoses made in children, it is important to practice prevention. Here are the basic guidelines for skin cancer prevention and sun protection .
- Avoid midday sun exposure if possible—usually between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun is at its strongest.
- Frequently apply sunscreen with a SPF 20 or higher.
- Wear a hat.
- Cover your skin if possible with clothing such as pants, long sleeved shirts, and long skirts. Keep in mind that UV rays are more likely to penetrate some types of clothing than others such as a loosely woven material or light colors.
- Wear sunglasses that block UV rays.
- Avoid tanning beds and sunlamps. Almost 37 percent of white females between the ages of 13 and 19 have used a tanning bed.
- Look for sunscreens that block both UVA and UVB light.
- Use a waterproof formula.
- Apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before going outside, and reapply it frequently, especially after swimming.
- Use sunscreen in winter, too. Protect yourself even on cloudy days.
Practicing cancer prevention and early detection methods could eliminate as many as 100,000 cancer cases and 60,000 cancer deaths each year in the United States, reports the SCF. The right sun protection will prevent skin cancer.
A mole, sore, lump, or growth on the skin can be a sign of melanoma or other skin cancer. A sore or growth that bleeds, or changes in skin coloring may also be a sign of skin cancer.
The ABCDE system can help you remember possible symptoms of melanoma:
- Asymmetry: One half of the abnormal area is different from the other half.
- Borders: The edges of the growth are irregular.
- Color: Color changes from one area to another, with shades of tan, brown, or black, and sometimes white, red, or blue. A mixture of colors may appear within one sore.
- Diameter: The spot is usually (but not always) larger than 6 mm in diameter -- about the size of a pencil eraser.
- Evolution: The mole keeps changing appearance.
The key to successfully treating melanoma is recognizing symptoms early. You might not notice a small spot if you don't look carefully. Have yearly body checks by a dermatologist, and examine your skin once a month. Use a hand mirror to check hard-to-see places. Call your doctor if you notice anything unusual.
If you have had skin cancer, you should have regular check-ups so that a doctor can examine your skin. You should also examine your skin once a month.
Call your health care provider if you notice any changes in your skin. You should also call if an existing spot becomes painful or swollen, or if it starts to bleed or itch.