A major focus of skin health programs is the prevention and early detection of skin cancer.
Skin Cancer: The Most Common Cancer in the World
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the world and is increasing at an epidemic rate. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer during the course of a lifetime.
Skin cancer is primarily caused by long-term exposure to the sun. This is because the sun’s invisible ultraviolet (UV) rays damage the skin over a period of time. There is no such thing as a healthy tan! Suntanning or sunburn can increase the risk of skin cancer greatly. Indoor tanning bed exposure also increases the risk of skin cancer.
Although anyone can get skin cancer, people with fair skin, freckles, light-colored eyes, or red or blond hair are particularly susceptible. People who spend a lot of time outdoors or have a family member with skin cancer also are at higher risk.
Sun protection reduces the risk of skin cancer and premature aging Sun protection throughout the year is the foundation of any skin care program. It helps to prevent skin damage and reduces the risk of both cancer and premature aging. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that deliberate sunbathing should be avoided. A wide-brimmed hat, UV-protectant sunglasses and protective clothing provide sun protection. A sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher should be used, even on cloudy days. “Broad spectrum” sunscreens, which block out two types of UV rays (UVA and UVB) provide the best protection. Sunscreens should be applied about twenty minutes before going outdoors, and reapplied every two hours. Sun protection is important even in the winter.
The three most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma.
Basal Cell and Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer. It may appear as a small shiny fleshy white or red bump on the scalp, face, neck or chest. It may bleed or crust over. Basal cell carcinoma grows slowly and rarely spreads to other parts of the body. It can be cured easily if treated early.
Squamous cell carcinoma typically develops on the face, ears, lips or back of the hands. It may appear as a scaly patch, a crusty open sore that will not heal or a raised warty growth. It also has a high cure rate if treated early. However, it can increase in size and may spread to internal organs if left untreated.
Actinic keratoses are pre-cancerous skin lesions that may eventually become squamous cell carcinoma if left untreated. Actinic keratoses appear as red scaly spots. They can be removed by freezing, other office procedures or by application of prescription creams.
Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer. It is sometimes associated with severe sunburns in childhood. Melanoma usually appears as a dark brown or black mole with irregular coloration and borders. It may be multicolored with areas of red, white or blue. It is found most often on the upper back, chest and abdomen of men and the lower legs of women. It can be cured if detected early. If left untreated it can spread to other organs and may be fatal. Any mole that changes in appearance or size, bleeds or itches persistently should be examined by a dermatologist.
Early Detection is the Key to Curing Skin Cancer
Basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and early melanoma can all be treated on an outpatient basis in a dermatologists office. Early detection and prompt treatment can usually result in a complete cure for all types of skin cancer.