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Everything you need to know about Skin Cancer in four easy answers

June 1, 2010

Yesterday, Memorial Day, was the unofficial kick-off to summer.  Everyone loves to be outside and to catch some sun; however, increased sun exposure can be quite dangerous- speeding up the aging process and increasing your risk of developing skin cancer.  And summer poses a bigger threat to those who are homeless than most realize.  From heat stroke to sunburn, dehydration to skin cancer, summer can be a dangerous time.  Thus, today on Calvary Comments we are going to tackle: Everything you need to know about Skin Cancer in four easy answers

What is skin cancer?

 

Skin cancer is the most prevalent form of all cancers in the U.S. (about 1.3 million Americans are diagnosed each year) and the number of cases continues to rise. It is estimated that almost half of American’s will have some type of skin cancer at  least once by the time they reach the age of 65.  Skin cancer is a disease in which skin cells lose the ability to divide and grow normally. Abnormal cells can then grow out of control and form tumors, which are either benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Most skin growths are non-malignant, benign tumors.

However, there are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. Basal cell and squamous cell cancers are less serious types and make up 95% of all skin cancers. Also referred to as non-melanoma skin cancers, they are highly curable when treated early. They usually occur on parts of the body that experience maximum sun exposure; however, they can be found anywhere. Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer and causes 75% of all skin cancer deaths. Left untreated, it can spread to other organs and is difficult to control.

 

What are the risk factors for skin cancer?

Truly anyone can get skin cancer. Although, the risk is greatest for those who are over 50 and have fair or freckled skin that burns easily. It is an individual’s lifetime exposure to UV rays that determines his or her risk.  A family or personal history of skin cancer, working outside, or episodes of severe sunburn can increase the risk of developing skin cancer as well. Those who are homeless, due to the increased sun exposure living on the streets, also have an increased risk of developing skin cancer.

What are the symptoms of skin cancer?

The most common symptoms are a new growth or mole on the skin or a change in an existing growth. However, not all changes in the skin are symptoms of skin cancer- most, in fact, are harmless and do not need to be removed. Basal cell carcinoma may appear as a small, smooth, pearly or waxy bump on the face ears and neck; or as a flat, pink/red- or brown-colored lesion on the trunk or arms and legs. Whereas, squamous cell carcinoma can appear as a firm, red nodule, or as a rough, scaly flat lesion that may itch, bleed and become crusty.  Melanoma usually appears as a pigmented patch or bump. It may resemble a normal mole, but usually has a more irregular appearance. Pay special attention to asymmetry, ragged or blurred borders, an uneven color, or a significant

What are the methods of treatment?

 

A dermatologist or doctor will need to take a sample of the tissue and examine it (a biopsy). Sometimes a biopsy can remove all of the cancer tissue and no further treatment is needed. However, if this is not the case, additional treatment of skin cancer is determined by the type, size and location of the cancer. (as well as the patient’s preference)  Standard treatments for non-melanoma skin cancer include the excision of cancer and some extra tissue, freezing, laser therapy, or chemotherapy.

Melanoma, because of the more serious nature of the cancer, requires more extensive treatment, including wide surgical excision, sentinel lymph node mapping to determine if the melanoma has spread to local lymph nodes, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy.

** For more comprehensive information on skin cancer symptoms, types and treatments, check out these websites. And read this article on Change.org on how to help those who are homeless beat the heat.  Also, our recent Hope Awards Dinner honoree Shonda Shilling, who has battled melanoma in the past, founded the SHADE Foundation of America to educate children and the community about skin cancer, prevention and sun safety.  Read all about her efforts here.

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