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Skin Cancer

by Marcie Cook Licensed Aesthetician 

Skin cancer is the most common of the cancers; it affects an estimated 1.3 million Americans each year. Skin cancer diagnosis's are on a rising rate of 4 to 5 percent annually, with this kind of rise skin cancer continues to be a genuine epidemic. There are three different types of skin cancer that comprise this category of sun-induced cancers: the basal cell, the squamous cell carcinoma, and of course malignant melanoma. Ultraviolet exposure and sun damage is the leading factor to developing skin cancer. Damaging rays create cellular DNA damage and ultimately skin cancer. Skin has a repair system that literally cuts out damaged DNA and replaces it with new, healthy code. Too much UV damage may simply overwhelm the system. Some people are more prone to developing skin caner then others, for example people with lighter skin, red hair, blond hair, and blue eyes. A lifelong history of sun exposure places one at higher risk. Regardless of race anyone can develop skin cancer.

Basal Cell Carcinoma will affect an estimated 800,000 Americans this year. Even with that high a statistic most people have never heard of this kind of cancer. This type of cancer earns its name from the location deep within the epidermis in which they form the basal or basement level of cells. Basal Cell Carcinoma presents itself as slowly growing tumors that look pearly. These types of tumors can grow quite large and invade the spaces to which they are adjacent; however they rarely metastasize to other areas of the body. Pink or flesh-toned bumps slowly rise above the skin's surface. It's the pearlescent quality that gives it away. Over time it may go on to form a central ulceration (sore). In the early stages it resembles reddish dry skin patches that simply won't heal over months or even longer. Diagnosis of the BCC involves a skin biopsy, basal cell carcinoma is fairly easy to diagnose.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma affects approximately 200,000 people in the US per year. Squamous is the most dangerous form of skin cancer, it is associated with a small risk of spreading to other areas of the body. There are approximately 2000 deaths a year associated with this type of cancer. The more sun exposure, even cumulative sun acquired from regular "tanning" is associated with a high risk of developing SCC. SCC may also form on areas of the body that have been exposed to chemicals, thermal burns, radiation, and occasionally within vaccination scars. Typically SCC looks like hard, sometimes scaly or crusty red bump or nodule, SCC continues to grow in height and diameter until removed. From these spots ulceration, itching, and bleeding may develop. This type of cancer may arise from precancerous skin conditions known as actinic keratoses that resemble chronic reddish brown scaly patches of sun-exposed skin. Due to the high risk of this cancer spreading to other parts of the body a total removal is the best treatment option.

Melanoma is by far the most lethal of theses skin cancers; melanoma is responsible for 7400 deaths a year in the US. Melanoma is associated with moles; the vast majority of moles are visible on the skin, and brown in color. Gradually moles go through a series of changes, some faster than others, known as dysplasia. The faster the change the more likely the mole may turn into melanoma. Melanoma is almost 100% curable, so early detection is the key. Although it is easy to detect many symptomatic moles go ignored. According to The Melanoma Research Foundation, every hour of every day of the year an American dies of malignant melanoma. There are 4 signs to know to detect melanoma, these signs are;

  1. Asymmetry, the mole is not completely even in appearance.
  2. Border, the margins should be even and smooth, without ratty or projecting edges.
  3. Circumference, the mole should be nice and round, without jagged or sharp edges.
  4. Diameter, the size of the mole should not be more than 6mm measured across the mole. This is the size of a pencil eraser.

The above signs and symptoms do not automatically mean the mole is malignant, but they are definitely a reason to seek out a dermatologist for evaluation. Other signs to pay close attention to are rapid mole growth, formation of a sore, and itching and bleeding within the mole. The prognosis for melanoma is based upon the depth of the mole. Further work up and treatment are based upon this very important measurement.

I hope that this information has been helpful and remember saving your life is easier than you think. If you suspect something or just want to be rest assured then contact a dermatologist or visit one of the thousands of free skin cancer screens held throughout the US during May, which is Skin Cancer Awareness month.

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