Learn How to Protect Yourself Against Skin Cancer
What is skin cancer?
Skin cancer occurs when unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells triggers mutations (genetic defects). This damage is largely caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or from tanning beds. These mutations spark abnormal skin cells into a multiplication frenzy, which forms malignant tumors and can spread to other areas of the body. About 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers are linked to exposure to UV radiation from the sun.
The most common form of skin cancer is basal cell carcinoma, followed by squamous cell carcinoma. After that comes melanoma, which accounts for less than one percent of skin cancer diagnoses… but causes the majority of skin cancer deaths. However, if detected early, while it is still localized (hasn’t spread), melanoma can almost always be successfully treated.
Know the risk factors of skin cancer
Your skin type is a key factor in your risk for skin cancer. The list of other general risk factors includes:
- Lighter natural skin color
- A family or personal history of skin cancer
- Sun exposure
- A history of sunburn, particularly in early life
- A history of indoor tanning
- Skin that freckles, burns, reddens or rashes easily after sun exposure or becomes painful in direct sunlight
- Blue or green eye color
- Blonde or red hair color
- Certain types of moles
- The presence of moles all over your body
Detecting skin cancer early: See it to stop it
Annual head-to-toe exams by your doctor or dermatologist not only can teach you how to identify suspicious spots, freckles or moles — they can save your life. After learning how through a few exams by your doctor, you can check yourself in about 10 minutes. Just follow this simple ABCDE routine recommended by the Skin Cancer Foundation:
- A: Asymmetry – Draw a line (imaginary or actual) through the middle of a suspicious mole or lesion. If the two halves don’t match, that’s a warning sign.
- B: Border – A smooth, even border on a mole means it is benign. Uneven, notched or scalloped borders may be red flags for melanoma skin cancer.
- C: Color – Multi-colored moles are atypical and should be checked immediately by a doctor. A single solid color (e.g., brown) is more likely to be benign.
- D: Diameter – Malignant moles or lesions are usually larger than a pencil eraser in diameter.
- E: Evolving – Changes in mole size, shape, color, height over time are major warning signs. A benign mole will not change over time.
Don’t ignore skin cancer’s symptoms
Knowing exactly what to look for is the key to finding skin cancer early. Some common symptoms to watch for are:
- Unusual skin growth, bump or sore that doesn’t improve
- Pale patch of skin
- Waxy, translucent bump
- Brownish scar
- Flesh colored-lesion
- Lesions or bumps that bleed or become crusty
- Firm lumps on the skin with rough surface
- Reddish, scaly patch of skin
The five main types of skin cancer
The different types of skin cancer vary in where they begin. The five types of skin cancer are:
- Basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas – These very treatable skin cancers typically occur in sun-exposed areas of your body, such as the neck or face.
- Melanoma skin cancer – The most likely skin cancer type to grow and spread, melanoma causes a significant majority of skin cancer deaths.
- Merkel cell carcinoma – Although rare, this is often a fast-growing type of skin cancer stemming from the uncontrollable growth of Merkel skin cells.
- Lymphoma – This form of cancer begins in the immune system. Lymphomas that develop in the skin, known as skin lymphomas, are rare.
- Kaposi sarcoma – This skin cancer starts in the cell lining of lymph or blood vessels. Tumors usually appear on the skin (especially the face) and inside the mouth, but they can also develop in the lymph nodes, lungs and digestive tract.
How is skin cancer treated?
Your skin cancer type, its origin, the state of your health and other factors will help your doctor determine your treatment. He or she may recommend one or more of the following options:
- Mohs micrographic surgery – Effectively removes basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas. The visible tumor is removed, along with a thin layer of surrounding tissue. The tumor is then frozen, stained, mapped and examined for the presence of cancer. The process is repeated layer by layer until the sample is completely cancer-free.
- Excisional Surgery – This procedure entails the removal of the cancerous skin and a surrounding portion of normal skin. The excised tissue is sent to the pathology lab to confirm that all cancerous cells have been excised (removed).
- Curettage – The doctor can scrape off small lesions with an instrument called a curette, then use an electrocautery needle to destroy residual tumor cells and control bleeding.
- Cryosurgery – Eliminates the tumor by freezing it with liquid nitrogen. Cryosurgery involves no cutting, no bleeding and no anesthesia.
- Radiation – Often used in combination with other therapies, ionized radiation is directed at cancerous lesions to attack cancer cells until they are destroyed.
- Photodynamic Therapy – Involves the application of a light-sensitizing agent to the lesions and the areas surrounding them. Complete absorption of the agent into the skin takes about an hour, at which time a strong blue or red light or laser is directed to activate the medicated areas. This targets lesions while causing minimal damage to surrounding healthy tissue.
- Chemotherapy – For malignant skin cancer, chemotherapy drugs fight the cancer systemically to destroy it everywhere and prevent its spread to other areas of the body.
Innovative, proactive, personalized care for skin cancer
From empowering you with information and tools to fully understand skin cancer, to treating it quickly and comprehensively, RCCA is committed to your care. As one of the nation’s largest cancer physician networks, we have the reach, the resources and the localized accessibility to treat your very individualized needs with top-quality care and unfailing compassion.