cancer is the most prevalent of all cancers. It is estimated
that more than one million Americans develop skin cancer every
Sun avoidance is the best defense against skin
cancer. Over exposure to sunlight (including tanning) is the main
cause of skin cancer especially when it results in sunburn and
blistering. Other less important factors include: repeated medical
and industrial x-ray exposure, scarring from diseases or burns,
occupational exposure to such compounds as coal tar and arsenic,
and family history. Fair-skinned people who sunburn easily are
at particularly high risk for skin cancer.
Prevention means guarding the skin against the
known causes of skin cancer. Since the sun's ultraviolet rays are
the main culprit, the most effective preventive method is sun avoidance.
shade between 10:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. when the ultraviolet
most intense, especially
when your shadow is shorter than you are tall.
light-colored, tightly-woven, protective clothing, and
sunscreens with a SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of at least 15.
a SPF 15 sunscreen applied properly, a fair-skin person who sunburns
in 20 minutes can tolerate 15 times 20 minutes (300 minutes) without
burning. However, the use of sunscreens should not be an excuse to
spend extra time in the sun because other sunrays still go through
the sunscreen, such as UVA or infrared, which can age the skin and
damage the skin's immune system.
Begin early use of sun protection in childhood
because it is estimated that 80 percent of lifetime sun exposure
occurs before age 18. Children under 6 months of age should not
have prolonged sun exposure, but if this occurs then a sunscreen
should be used.
The use of sunscreen should always be part of
a program for sun avoidance and never as an excuse for increasing
is the surest way to a cure.
Develop a regular routine to inspect your body
for any skin changes using the simple procedures suggested on pages
5 & 6. If any growth, mole, sore, or skin discoloration appears
suddenly, or begins to change, see your dermatologist. Each of
the skin cancers depicted on the following pages can be readily
Precancerous Skin Conditions
Actinic keratoses are small scaly spots most commonly
found on the face, lower arms, and back of the hands in fair-skinned
individuals who have had significant sun exposure.
If not treated,
some actinic keratoses may become skin cancers, requiring more
extensive treatment. If diagnosed in the early stages, actinic
keratoses can be removed by cryotherapy (freezing), by applying
a cream or lotion form of chemotherapy, or by chemical peeling,
dermabrasion, laser surgery or other dermatologic surgical procedures.
Sunscreens help prevent actinic keratoses.
Cancerous Skin Conditions
There are three forms of skin cancer.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
This skin cancer usually appears
as a small, fleshy bump or nodule - most often on the head, neck,
and hands. Occasionally these cancers may appear on the trunk as
red patches. Basal cell carcinomas seldom occur in African Americans,
but they are the most common skin cancers found in fair-skinned
persons. People who have this cancer often have light-colored eyes,
hair and complexions, and don't tan easily. These tumors don't
spread quickly. It can take many months or years for one to grow
to a diameter of one-half inch. Untreated, the cancer will begin
to bleed, crust over, heal, and then the cycle repeats.
Although this type of cancer rarely
metastasizes (spreads to other parts of the body), it can extend
below the skin to the bone and cause considerable local damage.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
This skin cancer may appear as a bump, or as a
red, scaly patch. Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common
skin cancer found in fair-skinned persons. Typically, it is found
on the rim of the ear, the face, the lips, and mouth. It is rarely
found in dark-skinned persons. This cancer can develop into large
masses. Unlike basal cell carcinoma, it can metastasize. When found
early, and treated properly, the cure rate by dermatologic surgery
for both basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma is 95 percent.
It is projected that this most deadly
of all skin cancers will develop on the skin of 44,000 Americans
annually. Every year, an estimated 7,300 Americans will die from
melanoma. It is important to note that the death rate is at last
declining because patients are seeking help earlier. Like the less
aggressive skin cancers, basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas,
melanoma is almost always curable when detected in its early stages.
Melanoma has its beginnings in melanocytes,
the skin cells that produce the dark, protective pigment called
melanin. It is melanin that makes the skin tan, acting as partial
protection against sun. Melanoma cells usually continue to produce
melanin, which accounts for the cancers appearing in mixed shades
of tan, brown, and black. Melanoma can also be red or white. Melanoma
tends to spread, making treatment essential.
Melanoma may suddenly appear without
warning, but it may also begin in, or near a mole, or another dark
spot in the skin. It is important to know the location and appearance
of the moles on our bodies so any change will be noticed. The most
important step you can take is to have any changing mole examined
by a dermatologist so that any early melanoma can be removed while
still in the curable stage.
Excessive sun exposure, particularly
sunburn, is the most important preventable cause of melanoma, especially
among light-skinned individuals. Heredity also plays a part since
a person has an increased chance of developing melanoma if a family
member has had melanoma. Atypical moles (dyplastic nevi), which
may run in families, and a high number of moles, can serve as markers
for people at higher risk for developing melanoma.
Dark brown or black skin
is not a guarantee against melanoma. Dark-skinned people
can develop melanoma, especially on the palms of the hands, soles
of the feet, under nails, or in the mouth. Warning signs of melanoma
include: changes in the surface of a mole; scaliness, oozing,
bleeding, or the appearance of a new bump; spread of pigment
from the border into surrounding skin; and change in sensation
including itchiness, tenderness, or pain.
The ABCDs of Melanoma
How Skin Cancer is Treated?
If a skin biopsy reveals that an
area of the skin is cancerous, the dermatologist has an array of
surgical procedures to treat the cancer depending on the needs
of the individual patient. Early detection and removal offer the
best chance for a cure.
Dermatologists recommend that one
helpful way to discover early skin cancers is to do periodic self-examinations.
Get familiar with your skin and your own pattern of moles, freckles,
and "beauty marks." Watch for changes in the number,
size, shape, and color of pigmented areas. Call your dermatologist
if any changes are noticed.
Prevention of melanoma/skin cancer
is the best weapon against these diseases. But if a melanoma should
develop, it is almost always curable if caught in the early stages.
Practice periodic self-examination to aid in early recognition
of any new or developing lesion. The following is one way of self-examination
that will ensure that no area of the body is neglected. To perform
your self-examination you will need a full length mirror, a hand
mirror and a brightly-lit room.
Examine body front and back in mirror, then right
and left sides, arms raised. Bend elbows, look carefully at forearms,
back of upper arms, and palms. Next, look at backs of legs and
feet, spaces between toes, and soles. Examine back of neck and
scalp with a hand mirror. Part hair to lift.
and photos on this page reprinted with permission from the
American Academy of Dermatology. All
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