Skin Cancer Facts
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of their lifetime.
The three main types of skin cancer include: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma, which is less common but most serious. Other nonmelanoma skin cancers include Kaposi's sarcoma, Merkel cell carcinoma, and cutaneous lymphoma.
Understanding Skin Cancer
Skin cancer occurs when mutations form in the DNA of developing skin cells, causing the cells to grow out of control. Most often, the damage to skin cells results from exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.
Therefore, most skin cancers develop on sun-exposed areas of the body, like the face, lips, ears, scalp, neck and hands. However, skin cancer can also form on areas not normally exposed to sunlight, such as the spaces between the toes, under the nails, or even in the lining of the mouth, nose, vagina or anus.
Metastatic melanoma occurs when cancer spreads beyond the surface of the skin to other areas of the body, such as the lymph nodes.
Skin Cancer Risk Factors
Some common risk factors for skin cancer include:
- Light-colored skin, hair and eyes
- Family history of skin cancer
- Excessive exposure to UV rays
- History of sunburns (especially in childhood)
- Having multiple or atypical moles
- Geography (living in a sunny, high-altitude climate)
- A weakened immune system
- Occupational exposures (e.g., coal tar, arsenic)
- Increasing age (over age 50)
Signs of Skin Cancer
Skin cancer can have many different appearances. It can be shiny, pale, waxy, dry, scaly, rough, smooth, flat or firm. A common sign of skin cancer is changes on the skin, such as a new spot/lesion or an existing one that changes in size, shape, color or feel.
Specific features may include:
- Asymmetry (one half appears different than the other)
- Border irregularity
- Uneven color (varied shades of brown, black, white, red)
- Diameter greater than 6 mm (a pencil eraser)
- Recurrent crust or ulceration
- Scaliness, oozing, bleeding
- Pigmentation that spreads beyond its border
- Sensation changes (itchiness, tenderness, pain)
- A sore that doesn’t heal
- Increasing age (over age 50)
Treating Skin Cancer
Fortunately, many skin cancers respond well to treatments, especially when detected early. The recommended treatment depends on several factors, including the disease type, size, location, and extent.
Surgery is a common treatment option for skin cancer. Advances in surgical techniques allow doctors to remove cancerous tissue, preserve healthy skin tissue, and minimize scarring. Other skin cancer treatments may include chemotherapy, radiation therapy and/or immunotherapy.
There are new and innovative treatment options for advanced skin cancer too. For example, a new FDA-approved immunotherapy treatment, YervoyTM, is now available for previously untreated or unresectable metastatic melanoma.
NOTE: THIS INFORMATION IS NOT INTENDED NOR IMPLIED TO BE A SUBSTITUTE FOR PROFESSIONAL MEDICAL ADVICE. YOU SHOULD ALWAYS REPORT ANY SKIN CHANGES TO YOUR PHYSICIAN IMMEDIATELY.
10 Tips for Preventing Skin Cancer
- Do monthly skin self-exams. Examine your skin regularly, including your scalp, face, lips, neck, ears, hands, arms, back, legs and feet. Involve a partner in self-exams. Look for any new skin abnormalities, or changes in the size, shape or color of your freckles/moles. Consult a dermatologist if you notice anything suspicious.
- Use sunscreen and lip balm. Each day, generously apply a broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen to all exposed skin, as well as lip balm. Choose products with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. Apply 30 minutes before going outside, and reapply every two hours, and after swimming or sweating. Use sunscreen all year long.
- Seek the shade. The best way to prevent skin damage is to minimize sun exposure. Stay out of the sun as much as possible, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun’s rays are the strongest. Be aware when you’re near water, snow and sand, which all reflect the sun’s rays. Remember that sunburns can happen even on cloudy days.
- Wear sun-protective clothing. Wear clothing that protects your skin, including long-sleeved shirts and pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and UV-blocking sunglasses. Choose dark or bright colored clothes made of tightly-woven fabrics. Look for clothes with UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) labels. When outside, sit under an umbrella if possible.
- Avoid artificial UV radiation. Stay away from tanning beds, sunlamps, and other artificial sunlight sources, all which emit ultraviolet (UV) radiation that can increase your risk of skin cancer. Consider using sunless self-tanning products instead. Find products that have an SFP, but continue to use sunscreen with it to protect your skin.
- Be aware of sun-sensitizing medications. Some common medications, including certain antibiotics and over-the-counter drugs, as well as some cancer treatments (e.g., radiation therapy) can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight. Take extra precautions to stay out of the sun and ask your doctor about ways to protect your skin.
- Get your vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential for strong bones and good health. Although vitamin D can be obtained from exposure to sunlight, this same exposure increases skin cancer risk. Try to get your recommended daily 600 IU of vitamin D from food sources (e.g., oily fish, fortified dairy products and cereals) and supplements.
- Practice sun safety early. Skin damage from the sun begins at an early age. Keep newborns out of the sun and apply sunscreen on babies over six months of age. Teach older children the importance of avoiding sunburns and using sunscreen. Practice the shadow rule: If your shadow is shorter than you, the sun’s rays are at their strongest.
- Get annual skin cancer screenings. It’s important to get an annual full-body skin evaluation by a dermatologist. This is particularly true for those at increased risk for skin cancer, including anyone who has a family history or prior history of skin cancer, significant sun exposure, fair skin, or several moles/freckles.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle. Eating a nutritious, well-balanced diet, staying hydrated and exercising regularly are important for healthy skin. Also, make sure to avoid smoking and alcohol. A dietitian can help develop a nutritious meal plan and a physical therapist can help develop a personalized exercise plan for you.
NOTE: THIS INFORMATION IS NOT INTENDED NOR IMPLIED TO BE A SUBSTITUTE FOR PROFESSIONAL MEDICAL ADVICE. ALWAYS SEEK THE ADVICE OF YOUR PHYSICIAN OR OTHER QUALIFIED HEALTHCARE PROVIDER REGARDING SKIN CANCER.
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