The Most Common Cancers: #5 Skin Cancer
Skin cancer is the fifth most common cancer in the United States, with 76,690 new cases expected in 2013 according to the National Cancer Institute. The number of cases is rising each year, though, and it accounts for 75 percent of all cancer cases throughout the world.
The leading cause of skin cancer is over-exposure to the sun. Ultraviolet radiation (UV) can cause sunburn. When this happens, it can damage the DNA in skin cells. Once the DNA is damaged, skin cells grow out of control.
The sunburn does not need to be recent. In fact, if you were burned in your youth, then the chances are that the damage has been done to your DNA and your likelihood for skin cancer is higher.
Those with fair skin are most susceptible. That’s because they have less melanin in their skin. It’s a protein that causes pigment, but it also filters and protects the skin from UV. Between 40 and 50 percent of fair-skinned people aged 65 and older will develop skin cancer.
That’s not to say that people with darker complexions cannot get skin cancer, because they can. They might see signs of the disease on their palms or the soles of their feet, where their melanin levels are lower.
Sun tanning can increase your risk as well. Even though tanners develop more pigment and melanin in their skin, their risk is still greater because of their prolonged exposure to UV throughout their life. Using a tanning bed presents the same risk because the beds use UV light to tan your skin.
Skin cancer is easily detectable both through a visual examination and by touch. It is typically characterized by a growth that has changed in size, height, or color. One way to determine if a skin growth is cancerous is by using the ABCD method:
- A = growth with an Asymmetrical shape
- B = growth with an irregular Border
- C = growth with a dark or irregular Color
- D = growth with a Diameter larger than a pencil eraser
If you discover a skin growth that matches any of the above criteria, you should visit a dermatologist.
If your doctor suspects skin cancer, he may choose to remove all or part of the growth there in his office and have it analyzed. The pathologist performing that test will determine which of the two forms of skin cancer you might have; melanoma or nonmelanoma.
Melanoma is the more dangerous of the two. It is a malignancy and can be aggressive and life-threatening if not treated. Melanoma tumors can grow down through the skin layers. If cancer cells break off, they can spread to other parts of the body through the lymph and blood vessels. Melanoma can be found on any skin surface, including under a fingernail or in the mucus linings of the mouth, vagina, or anus. It can even occur in the eye.
There are two types of Nonmelanoma: basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma. These forms are more common than melanoma and are not malignant. Typically, they are not life-threatening. The nonmelanoma cancers grow slowly, do not progress beyond the skin, are detected easily, and have a high cure rate. These growths can be removed in the doctor’s office, and often, no further treatment is needed.
For melanoma, surgery is the usual treatment. An area of about two centimeters around the growth will be removed. If the melanoma grew deep into the skin, which presents the danger of spreading, then the closest lymph nodes will be checked for cancer.
Preventing skin cancer is as simple as limiting your exposure to the sun and UV radiation. If you use tanning beds, you should stop. If you must be in the sun, wear sunscreen and a hat, preferably one with a wide brim that will shade your entire head.
Consider wearing clothes with SPF protection as well. Some clothing manufacturers are producing summer wear with a similar SPF found in sunscreen. This is important since most t-shirts only offer a SPF of 2, which is not much protection.