At least half a million new cases of basal cell, squamous cell, and melanoma skin cancer are reported annually. Exposure to sunlight is the
predominant cause of skin cancer. Sun damage to skin cannot be reversed.
Some skin spots are not skin cancer, but can become malignant if
untreated. These rough, scaly spots, called actinic keratoses, are
caused by prolonged exposure to sun. A dermatologist can remove these
spots, allowing the undamaged layers of skin to surface.
Children's skin is more sensitive than that of an adult. Children also spend more
time outdoors. It's important to teach them early to use sunscreen and
hats. Medical studies indicate that up to 80% of skin damage occurs
before age 18.
Cumulative sun damage is especially detrimental to health. Using a
sunscreen of SPF 15 or greater would be a good habit to develop.
Annually, most dermatologists discover an average of twenty to thirty
new cases of melanoma on people who visited the doctor for other
reasons, such as rashes.
Basal Cell and Squamous Cell Carcinoma
One in eight Americans develop the most common skin cancer, basal cell.
Although anyone can develop basal cell or squamous cell cancer, those
with fair skin, and blonde or red hair and eyes--those who sunburn
easily--are at greatest risk. If you have had one occurrence of basal
cell, your chances of recurrence increase.
This cancer rarely spreads to vital organs, but it can metastasize
below the skin to bone, or it can destroy surrounding tissue, possibly
resulting in the loss of an eye, ear, or the nose.
The second most common skin cancer is squamous cell, nearly always
limited to light-skinned people. Typically this cancer occurs on the
edge of the ear, the lips, and mouth. It will increase in size if
untreated. Unlike basal cell, this cancer can metastasize to organs.
Our dark pigment, melanin, triggers suntan as a partial protection
against the sun. Melanoma cells, however, produce spots of melanin. This
cancer may appear suddenly or begin as a mole.
Melanoma is the deadliest skin cancer. It has increased 1,800 percent
since 1930. Its mortality rate was 34% from 1973 to 1992. Although the
incidence rate continues to rise, the death rate is declining because
people are seeking help earlier. However, a patient is at high risk for
recurrence if the primary melanoma was 4mm or greater, or if the disease
has spread to regional nodes.
New treatment techniques include sentinel node biopsy, which allows
physicians to map out the lymphatic drainage sites, targeting the first
node the cancer would drain to. This takes the guess work out of where
to next look for melanoma developing in a patient. Physicians can then
determine how aggressively to treat the melanoma.
High-dosage interferon alga-2b is another new treatment, one that
augments our immune response to melanoma. This drug, given for one year,
significantly delays cancer's effects.
Unlike basal cell and squamous cell, heredity may be a factor in this
cancer. Certain moles that run in families may indicate the person is at
a higher risk of developing melanoma. Also differing from other skin
cancers, melanoma may develop in brown or black-skinned people.
Early detection of skin cancer, prevention and treatment.