Things to know about skin cancer by Lisa Wall at Accredited Dermatology
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common form of skin cancer, affecting nearly 3 million Americans each year. It is seldom fatal, although it can lead to disfigurement if allowed to grow. The second most common type is squamous cell carcinoma, with 700,000 new cases diagnosed each year in the U.S. Like BCC, squamous cell carcinoma can cause disfigurement if left untreated; it results in 2,500 deaths each year. The most deadly skin cancer is melanoma. While melanoma accounts for less than five percent of skin cancer cases, it causes the vast majority of skin cancer deaths. Melanoma is also the only one among the seven most common cancers whose rate is increasing. An irregular-shaped mole, a sore that doesn’t heal; any new growth, lump or change in an area of the skin may be a sign of skin cancer. Most people have marks, blemishes and moles on their skin; the key is to be watchful for any changes in the skin–and if you do notice something suspicious, have it checked out by a doctor as soon as possible. A rough, thick scaly patch on the skin, or cracking/peeling on the lower lip that does not go away may be a sign of actinic keratosis (see above), a precancerous condition that may or may not develop into skin cancer. It’s important to check with your doctor right away if you notice any changes in your skin. A major risk factor is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. People who spend a lot of time in the sun–the major source of UV rays–or use tanning beds increase their risk of developing skin cancer. Family history plays a role, as does race: Caucasians, especially those with fair skin and light-colored hair, have a melanoma risk 10 times higher that of African Americans, and a higher risk overall for any type of skin cancer. Age and gender are factors: before age 40, women are at higher risk; after age 40, the risk is higher in men. An abundance of moles also increases risk; people who have many moles should have regular, thorough skin exams by a dermatologist, according to the American Cancer Association. Smokers have a higher incidence of developing squamous cell skin cancer, especially on the lips. This varies from person to person, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. However, if you’ve never been screened for skin cancer, it’s a good idea to schedule one. Be sure to ask the dermatologist how often you should have a skin cancer screening. Some individuals may need to be screened more frequently than others, due to risk factors. Treatment depends on the type and stage of cancer. The dermatologist can explain the best options for each individual patient. Most basal and squamous cell carcinomas can be treated with minor surgery or other localized treatments such as cryosurgery (a technique involving liquid nitrogen applied to the tumor to freeze and kill the cells). Mohs micrographic surgery (microscopically controlled surgery) is a specialized technique used to remove skin cancers while preserving surrounding healthy tissue.