Skin Cancer

Protect Yourself and Know Your ABCDs

The incidence of skin cancer has dramatically increased over the past few years, and it has become one of the most common cancers diagnosed today.  Public education and self examination is the key to preventing and recognizing the disease.  When outdoors always wear sun protection.  Proper skin care will allow you to maintain a more healthy, youthful appearance, as well as prevent skin cancers.

One of the most important parts of our bodies is our skin. It reflects our general health, and is our protection against environmental and biologic hazards. While outside keep in mind that exposure to sun with out protection could predispose you to skin cancer.  The risk factors for developing skin cancers depend on many things. They may be characterized into environmental exposures and individual factors.

Sun damage is the major factor in the development of skin cancer. The skin gives us the ability to tan which is our major defense against non-melanoma skin cancers. Our ability to tan is genetically determined by the amount of melanin pigment produced by the skin cells in our bodies. This pigment helps protect our skin by reflecting/refracting the damaging ultraviolet radiation produced by the sun. The number of melanin producing cells is determined by our genetic make up. This is why some people are more

photosensitive (burn more easily) than others. We know that the susceptibility to skin tumors is inversely related to the amount of melanin in the skin. It is directly related to the number of lifetime sunburns. While out in the sun always wear at least a 15-20 SPF sun block and it should be reapplied frequently.

The most common types of skin cancer include basal cell cancer, squamous cell cancer, and melanoma.  Basal cell cancer is the most common type of skin cancer.  It affects 1 in 10 people.  It locally invades the skin and may destroy surrounding tissue but it does not usually metastasize or spread through out the body.  Basal cell cancer usually affects individuals greater than 40 years of age, with more fair skin tones that have a poor ability to tan and males more than females.  Multiple sun burns as a child or young adult, x-ray therapy for acne, and arsenic exposure are known causes of basal cell cancer.  A basal cell cancer typically presents as a nodule with irregular raised borders and small red blood vessels or as a sclerosing whitish scared patch with pearly nodules.  Basal cell cancer is treated by surgical excision.  Cryosurgery, electrosurgery and curettage can also be used.

Squamous cell cancer is another common skin tumor.  It is very aggressive, locally invades the skin and may metastasize or spread through out the body.  If not treated, it may cause death.  Squamous cell cancer may affect individuals who are immuno suppressed, have chronic wounds, are greater than 55 years of age, and males more than females.  Ultraviolet radiation sun exposure, human papilloma virus, arsenic, tar, chronic radiation, chronic scars and non healing wounds are all known causes of squamous cell cancer.  A squamous cell cancer often time presents as a sharply demarcated scaling or plaque that may appear pink or red in color and may be crusted or bleed.  Benign lesions known as actinic keratosis may turn into squamous cell cancers.  Squamous cell cancer is treated with wide surgical excision with reconstruction, possible lymph node dissection and possible radiation therapy.

Melanoma is the most dangerous and aggressive skin cancer.  It locally invades the skin and may metastasize or spread rapidly through out the body.  It may cause death if not treated.  Melanoma affects anyone from children to the elderly.  It affects males and females equally.  In males age 30-49 it is the second most prevalent cancer.  Having a congenital nevus, a dysplastic nevus and sun exposure are all known causes of melanoma.  Melanoma usually presents as a darkened, asymmetric lesion with irregular borders, that has recently changed in size and/or color.  Melonoma is treated with wide surgical excision, possible sentinel node biopsy and possible lymph node dissection.

Sun protection and self examination is the key to preventing and detecting skin cancer.  When doing self examinations remember the ABCDs.  Look for skin lesions that are asymmetric (A) one half unlike the other;  have irregular, scalloped or poorly definedborders (B); have varying colors (C) shades of tan, brown and/or black; and are at least 6 mm in diameter (D).  If you suspect you have a possible malignant lesion go to your doctor immediately.  If they determine it is suspicious, they will most likely refer you to a dermatologist or plastic surgeon for biopsy and removal of the lesion.  The good news about skin cancer is that is 100% curable if caught and completely removed early.  So get out there and enjoy the sun, but always wear sun block and perform self examinations.