How do I know if I have skin cancer? Newsmax Health contributor Dr. Kenneth Beer answers these questions and more in this special report.
More than one million skin cancers are diagnosed in the United States every year. An equal opportunity cancer, skin cancer can affect people of any race, sex or age. In fact, melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is the second most common cancer in women aged 20 to 29.
The good news is that when detected early, skin cancer has an almost 100 percent five-year survival rate. Research shows that most skin cancers are found by an individual. When people regularly check their skin for suspicious moles or lesions, they can literally save their own lives. However, it can be something that people overlook because they don’t have the knowledge or tools to perform monthly skin self exams.
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Skin cancer is the most prevalent of all cancers. Estimates vary on its occurrence but it is estimated that approximately 7,000,000 Americans develop skin cancer every year
Sun avoidance is the best defense against skin cancer.
The principal cause of skin cancer is almost universally accepted by medical experts to be overexposure to sunlight, especially when it results in sunburn and blistering. Other less important factors would include: repeated medical and industrial x-ray exposure; scarring from diseases or burns; occupational exposure to such compounds as coal and arsenic, and family history.
Prevention is a matter of guarding the skin against the known causes. Since the sun and its ultraviolet rays would seem to be the main culprit, the most effective preventive method is sun avoidance. Limit the exposure of the skin to harmful rays by covering up and using sunscreens with at least a 15 SPF rating.
Early detection is the surest way to a cure.
It is a simple routine to inspect your body for any skin changes. Actinic keratosis and each of the skin cancers depicted in the following pages can be readily detected. If any growth, moles, sore or discoloration appears suddenly or begins to change, see your dermatologist.
Precancerous skin conditions
In addition to the types of skin cancers illustrated here, be alert for a precancerous lesion called actinic keratosis. These small scaly spots are most commonly found on the face and back of the hands in fair-skinned individuals who have had significant sun exposure. If they are not treated, some of them may become skin cancer, requiring more extensive treatment. If they are diagnosed in the early stages, actinic keratosis can be removed by cryotherapy (freezing), by applying a topical form of chemotherapy or by other outpatient procedures.
There are three forms of skin cancer:
1) Basal cell carcinoma
This tumor of the skin usually appears as a small, fleshy bump or nodule on the head, neck and hands. Occasionally these nodules may appear on the trunk of the body, usually as flat growths. Basal cell carcinomas seldom occur in dark-skinned persons; they are the most common skin cancers found in Caucasians. It has been found that people who have this cancer frequently have light hair, eyes and complexions, and they don't tan easily. These tumors don't spread quickly. It may take many months or years for one to reach a diameter of one half inch.Untreated, the cancer will begin to bleed, crust over, then repeat the cycle.
Although this type of cancer rarely metastasizes (spread to other parts of the body), it can extend below the skin to the bone and cause considerable local damage.
2) Squamous cell carcinoma
These tumors may appear as nodules or as red, scaly patches. Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common skin cancer found in Caucasians. It typically is found on the rim of the ear, the face, the lips and mouth. It is rarely found on dark-skinned persons. This cancer will develop into large masses. Unlike basal cell carcinoma, it can metastasize. It is estimated that there are 2,300 deaths from non-melanoma skin cancers every year.
The cure rate for both basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma is 95 percent, when properly treated.
3) Malignant melanoma
It is projected that this most virulent of all skin cancers develops on the skin of 32,000 Americans annually. And every year an estimated 6,800 Americans will die from melanoma. It is important to note that the death rate is at last declining, because patients are seeking help earlier. Melanoma, like its less aggressive cousins, basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, is almost always curable in its early stages.
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