Skin cancer is the most prevalent of all types of cancers.  It is estimated that more than one million Americans develop skin cancer each year.

Risk Factors

Fair-skinned people who sunburn easily are at a particularly high risk for developing skin cancer.  Other less important factors include repeated medical and industrial x-ray exposure, scarring from diseases or burns, and family history.

Prevention

Year-round sun protection is recommended to prevent skin cancer.  Some basics include:

  • Use a sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher whenever you spend time outdoors.  Choose a sunscreen with ingredients that block both UVB and UVA rays.
  • Cover up with clothing. Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.  Tightly woven fabrics offer more protection.
  • Seek the shade. Remember, the sun's rays are strongest between 10am and 4pm.
  • Never seek a tan. There is no such thing as a healthy tan.  A tan is the skin's response to the sun's damaging rays.
  • Stay away from tanning parlors and artificial tanning devices. The UV radiation emitted by indoor tanning lamps is many times more intense than natural sunlight.
  • Protect your children and teach them sun safety at an early age.  Keep newborns out of the sun and use sunscreen on babies over the age of six months.
  • Use extra caution near water, snow and sand as they reflect the damaging rays of the sun, which can increase your chance of sunburn.

Detection/Self-Exams

Early detection of skin cancer is the key to cure.  Develop a regular, monthly routine to inspect your body for any skin changes.  If a growth, mole, sore or skin discoloration appears suddenly, or begins to change, see your primary care physician or a dermatologist.  It is also recommended to have an annual skin examination by a dermatologist, especially for adults with significant past sun exposure or a family history of cancer.  If you spot something, don't overlook it or delay seeking medical assistance.

Warning Signs of Skin Cancer

The warning signs of melanoma (skin cancer) include:

  • Changes in the surface of a mole
  • Scaliness, oozing, bleeding or the appearance of a new bump
  • Spread of pigment from the border of a mole into surrounding skin
  • Change in sensation including itchiness, tenderness or pain

Know the ABCDEs of Melanoma:

  • A stands for Asymmetry; one half of the mole or pigmented spot is unlike the other half.
  • B stands for Border; irregular, scalloped or poorly defined border.
  • C stands for Color; varied from one area to another; shades of tan and brow, black, or even sometimes white, red or blue
  • D stands for Diameter; while melanomas are usually greater than 6mm (the size of a pencil eraser) when diagnosed, they can be smaller
  • E stands for Evolving; a mole or skin lesion that looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape or color

Treatment Options

If a skin biopsy reveals cancer, there are several dermatologic surgical treatments that can be performed, including cryosurgery and laser surgery.  In addition, treatments can include radiation therapy, photodynamic therapy and topical chemotherapy products may be used.

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