Skin cancer is a malignant tumor that grows in the skin cells. In the U.S. alone, more than 2 million Americans are expected to be diagnosed in 2013 with nonmelanoma skin cancer, and more than 76, 000 are expected to be diagnosed with melanoma, according to the American Cancer Society.
There are three main types of skin cancer, including:
|Basal cell carcinoma||Basal cell carcinoma accounts for approximately 80 percent of all skin cancers. This highly treatable cancer starts in the basal cell layer of the epidermis (the top layer of skin) and grows very slowly. Basal cell carcinoma usually appears as a small, shiny bump or nodule on the skin - mainly those areas exposed to the sun, such as the head, neck, arms, hands, and face. It most commonly occurs among people with light-colored eyes, hair, and complexion.|
|Squamous cell carcinoma||Squamous cell carcinoma, although more aggressive than basal cell carcinoma, is highly treatable. It accounts for about 20 percent of all skin cancers. Squamous cell carcinoma may appear as nodules or red, scaly patches of skin, and may be found on sun-exposed areas, such as the face, ears, lips, and mouth. However, if left untreated, squamous cell carcinoma can spread to other parts of the body. This type of skin cancer is usually found in fair-skinned people.|
|Malignant melanoma||Malignant melanoma accounts for a small percentage of all skin cancers, but accounts for most deaths from skin cancer. Malignant melanoma starts in the melanocytes - cells that produce pigment in the skin. Malignant melanomas sometimes begin as an abnormal mole that then turns cancerous. This cancer may spread quickly. Malignant melanoma most often appears on fair-skinned men and women, but people with all skin types may be affected.|
To help find melanoma early, it is important to examine your skin on a regular basis, and become familiar with moles, and other skin conditions, in order to better identify changes. Certain moles are at higher risk for changing into malignant melanoma. Moles that are present at birth (congenital nevi), and atypical moles (dyplastic nevi), have a greater chance of becoming malignant. Recognizing changes in moles, by following this ABCD Chart, is crucial in detecting malignant melanoma at its earliest stage. The warning signs are:
|Normal mole / melanoma||Sign||
|Asymmetry||When half of the mole does not match the other half|
When the border (edges) of the mole are ragged or irregular
|Color||When the color of the mole varies throughout|
|Diameter||If the mole's diameter is larger than a pencil's eraser|
|Photographs Used By Permission: National Cancer Institute|
Melanomas vary greatly in appearance. Some melanomas may show all of the ABCD characteristics, while others may show few or none. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.
A risk factor is anything that may increase a person's chance of developing a disease. It may be an activity, such as smoking, diet, family history, or many other things. Different diseases, including cancers, have different risk factors.
Although these factors can increase a person's risk, they do not necessarily cause the disease. Some people with one or more risk factors never develop the disease, while others develop disease and have no known risk factors.
But, knowing your risk factors to any disease can help to guide you into the appropriate actions, including changing behaviors and being clinically monitored for the disease.
Skin cancer is more common in fair-skinned people, especially those with blond or red hair, who have light-colored eyes. Skin cancer is rare in children. However, no one is safe from skin cancer. Other risk factors include:
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends the following steps to help reduce your risk of skin cancer:
The American Academy of Pediatrics approves of the use of sunscreen on infants younger than 6 months old only if adequate clothing and shade are not available. Parents should still try to avoid sun exposure and dress the infant in lightweight clothing that covers most surface areas of skin. However, parents also may apply a minimal amount of sunscreen to the infant's face and back of the hands.
Remember, sand and pavement reflect UV rays even under an umbrella. Snow is a particularly good reflector of UV rays.
Finding suspicious moles or skin cancer early is the key to treating skin cancer successfully. A skin self-exam is usually the first step in detecting skin cancer. The following suggested method of self-examination comes from the AAD:
(You will need a full-length mirror, a hand mirror, and a brightly lit room.)
Specific treatment for skin cancer will be determined by your doctor based on:
There are several kinds of treatments for skin cancer, including the following:
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