We’ve traded our winter coats and boots for shorts and flip-flops in Mississippi. For many of us, that means more time spent looking at our skin, which makes the summer the perfect time to protect our skin and inspect for suspicious spots. But what do you really know about skin cancer?
Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States.
One million people in the US are diagnosed with skin cancer each year. Although the number of skin cancer cases climb each year increased awareness means earlier diagnosis and more effective treatment.
Most skin cancer falls into three categories: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.
Carcinoma is just another word for cancer. Basal cell and squamous cell make up the majority of skin cancer diagnosis. These cancers do not typically spread to other parts of the body but may cause disfigurement if not treated quickly. Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer. Melanoma grows quickly, can spread to other parts of the body and can become life-threatening if not treated quickly.
Fair skinned people are more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.
While light-skinned people, especially those with freckles, and people with blonde or red hair and blue or green eyes are more likely to develop skin cancer, it doesn’t mean darker skinned people will not develop these cancers. Although the risk may be lower, darker skinned people should still be aware of any moles that stand out.
The risk of developing skin cancer increases with age.
Basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas are more commonly diagnosed in older patients. Skin cancer diagnosed in younger patients, especially those 25-29 years old, is more likely to be the most dangerous melanoma. The risk for all types of skin cancer increases with age.
Basal cell carcinoma often appears as a sore that will not heal.
BCC often develops on sun-exposed skin such as face, neck, head, arms, and legs. It may appear as a flesh-colored or pearl-like bump or a pinkish patch of skin. Without treatment, these tumors may develop into a larger mass and affect nearby tissue, nerves, and bone.
Squamous cell carcinoma often appears as a thickened, red scaly spot.
A SCC may develop into an open sore or ulcer and bleed easily. These sores may heal and re-open. This cancer typically grows slowly over many years but it can spread to other parts of the body if it is not treated.
Know your ABCDE’s to spot melanoma.
Melanomas have distinct characteristics. To make remembering what this most dangerous cancer looks like doctors have outlined it using an easy to remember ABCDE method.
- Asymmetry — If a line is drawn through a mole each side should match. If the sides do not match the mole is asymmetrical and could be melanoma.
- Border irregularity — Normal moles have smooth, even edges, however, the border of a melanoma skin cancer mole may have notches or ragged borders.
- Color — Most normal moles have an even color all the way through the mole. Melanoma often has a mixture of colors including black, brown, or tan. It may include patches of pink, red, white or even blue.
- Diameter — Cancerous moles can be larger than 6 mm across (about the size of a pencil eraser). Not all melanomas will not reach this size if detected and treated early.
- Evolution — When a mole starts to change shape, size or color, it’s time to see a medical provider.
All skin cancer requires medical treatment.
Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are often treated by surgically removing the lesion. Melanoma may require additional treatment including radiation and chemotherapy. When you notice a suspicious mole or lesion, see your provider immediately. A referral to a dermatologist may be necessary.
Protect your skin to lower skin cancer risks.
Skin, hair and eye color may increase the risks of skin cancer, but precautions when enjoying outdoor activities can reduce those risks. Wear SPF 30 sunscreen when outdoors in all seasons. Protect your head, face, and ears by wearing a hat or cap outdoors. Avoid the sun’s most intense rays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. And skip the tanning beds.
Outside sports and activities provide multiple benefits for our bodies. Protect your largest organ, your skin, while enjoying the lake, a game of golf or baseball or gardening to get the maximum benefit from this summer!