Skin Cancer Prevention Tips in the Warm Weather
Skin cancer is a type of cancer that develops in one of the skin cells. There are different types of skin cancer that grow in the various cells contained within the top layer of the skin known as the epidermis. It is the most common form of cancer in the United States today. Experts predict that one in five Americans will receive a diagnosis of skin cancer during their lifetime. Cancers that are detected early are far easier to treat than those in the late stages, so being aware of the signs of skin cancer is the best way to protect yourself against the disease.
Vigilance in self-checks is the key to early detection. Similar to every version of cancer, catching it in earlier stages makes it much easier to treat. Everyone should be doing monthly self-checks in between annual visits to your primary care provider. Any changes should be noted, and you may want to have a mirror or partner handy to peer at areas that you cannot readily see. Although it is not always about moles, those with severe sunburns or generalized patterns of raised and/or red skin need a check-up too. Those with repeated severe damage will put themselves at greater risk of developing skin cancer.
There are three different types of skin cancer:
Basal cell carcinoma:
It is the most common and the least likely to spread to other parts of the body. This type of cancer cell does not generally spread to other parts of the body unless it goes unnoticed for a long period of time. It is characterized by raised pink bumps that can easily bleed after minor injury.
Squamous cell carcinoma:
It is less common and shows up on skin areas that are frequently exposed to cancer. This type of cancer develops on areas of the skin that are regularly exposed to the sun or from another type of skin condition known as actinic keratosis. It presents as red, scaly patches on the skin that are often raised.
It is less common than the other types but is much more dangerous due to the speed with which it can spread. Melanoma is presented as a black and brown growth on the skin that is often asymmetrical and without a clearly defined border. Moles are a benign form of tumor that resemble melanoma, and we tend to advise people with a lot of moles to frequently check them for signs of change.
Remember to go through your To-Check Mole Alphabet. Some people’s moles may be darker or lighter based on the skin tone, but they should never hurt and they should not have any leaks; blood or otherwise. If you have moles that exhibit any of these signs, you need to call for an appointment.
Asymmetry: Healthy moles should be round and symmetrical
Border: A clearly defined border is common in healthy skin growths and should not be blurred or faded
Color: Pay attention to the color of your moles. Any mole that contains several shades of black, blue or brown should be examined by a doctor as soon as possible.
Diameter: Any mole greater than ¼ inch diameter may need to be looked at by a professional
Evolving: If you have a mole or skin growth that is changing in shape, size or color, make an appointment with a doctor immediately for further examination.
The best way to reduce the risk for skin cancer is by avoiding exposure to UV radiation, whether it be from an indoor tanning device or natural light. Ultraviolet radiation is a concern all year round, no matter what the weather clouds do not offer protection from UV rays and UV rays reflect off sand, water, and snow. There are many ways to reduce exposure to UV radiation.
Always sue SPF 30+ sunblock, it might sound obvious, but many people forget to apply sunscreen protection, especially when they are just going about their day. Sun’s rays don’t care if you are just walking to your car or hanging out for an hour at the park. Don’t forget to apply it to your face and all exposed areas of skin. Another failed realization is that your sunscreen does expire. Check the expiration date, which is usually two or three years after the manufacturer’s date. Do not buy sunscreen at the store that is due to expire in a few months and then think that is will give you the same protection next year. Pulling that old sunblock out of a drawer is not going to help you fight against skin cancer. When applying sunscreen make sure to reapply every two hours, some people put their SPF skin protection on in the morning and think it will last all day. However, perspiration and the skin’s own absorption will make it necessary to reapply, especially if you are going to be outside for any prolonged duration or multiple times throughout the day.
Another tip to prevent skin cancer is to protect your eyes and face. Invest in UVA sunglasses, not the cheap ones at the Dollar Store, to ensure high quality protection for your eyes. Also make sure you wear a hat. You can’t lather sunblock on your head, so many people think that their hair is enough to provide protection from the sun. It is recommended that you wear a hat, as the UV rays can also cause skin cancer and burn through your hair.
There are several effective means of treating skin cancer. The choice of therapy depends on the location and size of the tumor, the microscopic characteristics of the cancer, and the general health of the patient.
In the case of superficial basal cell carcinomas, some creams, gels, and solutions can be used, which works by stimulating the body’s immune system causing it the produce interferon which attacks the cancer. Some patients do not experience any side effects of these topical treatments, but others may have redness, inflammation, and irritation. The drawback of topical medications is that there is no tissue available to examine to determine if a tumor is removed completely.
Destruction by Electrodessication and Curettage:
The tumor area is numbed with a local anesthetic and is repeatedly scraped with a sharp instrument, and the edge is then cauterized with an electric needle. The advantage of this method is that it is fast, easy, and relatively inexpensive. The disadvantages are that the scar is often somewhat unsightly, and the recurrence rate is as high as 15 percent.
The area around the tumor is number with a local anesthetic. A football-shaped portion of tissue including the tumor is then removed and then the wound edges are closed with sutures. For every big tumors, skin grafts or flaps are needed to close the defect. The advantages of this form of treatment are the there is a greater than 90 percent cure rate, the surgical specimen can be examined to be sure that the whole tumor is successfully removed, and the scar produced is usually more cosmetically acceptable than that the destruction by electrodessication and curettage procedure. The disadvantage is that it is a more complicated procedure and is more expensive.
Mohs Micrographic Surgery:
The site is locally anesthetized and the surgeon removes the visible tumor with a small margin of normal tissue. The tissue is immediately evaluated under a microscope and areas that demonstrate residual microscopic tumor involvement are re-excised and the margins are re-examined. This cycle continues until no further tumor is seen.
Ten to fifteen treatment sessions deliver a high dose of radiation to the tumor and a small surrounding skin area. This form of treatment is useful in those who are not candidates for any surgical procedure. The advantage of radiation therapy is that there is no cutting involved. The disadvantage of this expensive alternative are that the treated area cannot be tested to be sure the whole tumor is gone and radiation scars look worse over time.
Other treatments for skin cancers include cryosurgery where tissue I destroyed by freezing, photodynamic therapy in which medication and blue light is used to destroy cancerous tissue, and laser surgery to vaporize the skin’s top layer and destroy lesions.
Q & A
Is skin cancer hereditary?
Since most skin cancers are caused by ultraviolet light exposure, skin cancers are generally not considered to be inherited. By the fact that skin cancer is much more common among poorly pigmented individuals and that skin color is inherited does support the proposition that genetics are very important.
What causes skin cancer?
Most cases of skin cancer are caused by exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV rays). UR rays can come from natural sunlight as well as from indoor tanning devices such as tanning beds, tanning booths, and sunlamps.
What increases risk factors?
Some people are more likely tan others to develop skin cancer. Risk factors vary for different types of skin cancer, but some general risk include.
- Having a lighter natural skin color
- Having family history of skin cancer
- Having personal history of skin cancer
- Exposure to the sun through work and play
- Having a history of sunburns, especially early in life
- Having a history of indoor tanning
- Having skin that burns, freckles, reddens easily, or become painful in the sun
- Blue or green eyes
- Blonde or red hair
- Certain types and a large number of moles
When is a mole dangerous or high-risk for becoming a skin cancer?
Moles are almost always harmless and only very rarely turn into skin cancer. If a mole becomes cancerous, it would be a melanoma. A early sign of melanoma is noticing a difference in a mole, refer above to the identification section about the Mole Alphabet.
How do physicians diagnose skin cancer?
Skin examination is the way to get a definitive diagnosis of skin cancer. In many cases, the appearance alone is sufficient to make the diagnosis, but a skin biopsy is sometimes used to confirm a suspicion of skin cancer. This is performed by numbing the area under the tumor, then a small portion of the tumor is sliced away and sent for examination by a pathologist, who looks at the tissue under a microscope and renders a diagnosis based on the characteristics of the tumor.
Where are the most common sites where skin cancer develop?
Skin cancers typically arise in areas of the skin exposed to the sun repeatedly over many years such as on the face and nose, ears, back of neck, and the bald area of the scalp. Less commonly, these tumors may appear at sites with only limited sun exposure such as the back, chest, or the extremities. However, skin cancer may occur anywhere on the skin.