Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, affecting more than 91,270 Americans annually. Even though most forms of skin cancer can be cured if treated early enough, it’s important to take precautions against some of the risk factors and to address concerns with your physician.
By learning the warning signs, types of skin cancer, causes and treatments of skin cancer, you’ll have the knowledge you need to stay healthy.
What Does Skin Cancer Look Like?
There are different types of skin cancer and each has a distinct appearance. Some appear as raised red patches, they can be rough and scaly, flat and pale, or even open sores that never seem to heal. The most common skin cancers resemble moles and can sometimes evolve from benign moles.
While it’s always a good idea to have concerning skin spots examined by a medical professional, there are a few key indicators that can help you identify if you have cause for concern. The easiest way to remember the signs of skin cancer is by the “ABCDE rule.”
- Asymmetry- A mole or birthmark is darker on one side than the other.
- Border– The edges of the spot are irregular.
- Color– The spot includes several different colors, such as different shades of brown, black, or even pink, red, white, or blue.
- Diameter– The spot is larger than ¼ inch in diameter.
- Evolving– The spot is changing (in shape, size, or color)
Types of Skin Cancer
Even though any of the above qualities can be a sign of any form of skin cancer, it’s important to know that there are different types of skin cancers that each impact the body differently.
Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer because it can grow quickly and become life-threatening in as little as six weeks, if left untreated. The reason melanoma is so dangerous is because the cancer cells can make their way into the lymphatic system or metastasize in other parts of the body.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common, but also the least dangerous form of skin cancer. This type of cancer occurs most frequently on skin that receives the most exposure to sunlight. Even though it is unlikely for this type of cancer cell to spread throughout the body, it is possible—which is why it’s important to treat this cancer just as seriously as you would other forms of skin cancer.
Squamos Cell Carcinoma
Even though squamous cell carcinoma is not as dangerous as melanoma, there is a risk that it will spread to other parts of the body. Even though this type of skin cancer grows slower than melanoma, it has been known to spread to other parts of the body—sometimes in the form of painful ulcers.
What Causes Skin Cancer?
You probably know that most skin cancers are usually caused when ultraviolet radiation (from the sun or tanning beds) triggers genetic defects that lead skin cells to multiply rapidly. While it’s true that fair-skinned people are more at risk for skin cancer than people with darker complexions, it’s important to understand that darker skin is not immune to skin cancer. A recent study shows that skin cancer has increased nearly 20% in the Latino population over the past 2 decades.
The misconception surrounding skin cancer in the black and Latino populations is dangerous because skin spots often go ignored until the cancer reaches more advanced stages. It’s important for everyone to understand the risks of sun cancer, regardless of skin tone.
Skin Cancer Treatment
Most skin cancer patients can make a full recovery, if they seek treatment early enough. The key to treating any type of cancer is early diagnosis—and skin cancer is one of the easiest cancers to spot.
The most common treatment for skin cancer is to remove the cancerous cells. This treatment is most effective in the early stages, but may require more extensive procedures (such as radiation therapy) as the cancer grows.
By learning how to identify the signs of skin cancer, you can seek medical attention early enough to prevent the need for more serious treatments. However, the one thing that’s even better than early treatment is prevention. Try to limit your exposure to direct sunlight, especially if you’re prone to sunburn. Stay away from tanning beds and if you do need to spend long hours outdoors, always wear sunscreen or protective clothing. Sunscreen can be purchased over-the-counter at any Wiley’s Pharmacy location. Following these simple steps could mean the difference between healthy skin cells and risk of cancer.