• Family health care, 
including diagnosis 
and treatment of major 
and minor illness
    Family health care, including diagnosis and treatment of major and minor illness
  • Family health care, 
including diagnosis 
and treatment of major 
and minor illness
    Family health care, including diagnosis and treatment of major and minor illness

Skin Cancer: Do you know the warning signs?

June 10th, 2015

Cancer from the Sun Month

 

Skin - it’s the largest organ of our body. It protects our inner organs from injury and bacterial invaders, helps us with temperature regulation, and makes Vitamin D for healthy bones. But when if we don’t care for it properly, it can lead to dangerous consequences, cancer being the biggest.

There are three types of skin cancer: Squamous cell, basal cell, and melanoma.

The most common skin cancer is basal cell, with nearly one million people diagnosed with it in the US. This cancer usually develops in the basal cells in the middle layer of living skin cells in the epidermis and commonly occurs on the head and neck. This cancer rarely spreads to other areas to the body, and appears as a small raised bump or open sore that does not seem to heal.

Squamous cell skin cancer is the second most common and develops in the squamous cells, the top layer of living skin cells of the epidermis. Between 200,000-300,000 people are diagnosed with it in the US, more so in men than women. It usually appears like a scar on the skin, white or pearly pink, or a red irritated area, or a sore that bleeds or leaks. These normally show up on the face, ears, neck, lips, or hands.

The third and less common of the three is melanoma. According to the American Cancer Society, an average of 73,000 cases of melanoma are diagnosed every year. While it’s the least diagnosed of the three, it accounts for about 75 percent of all skin cancer deaths. The American Melanoma Foundation says that an American dies every 61 minutes of melanoma.

All skin cancers are usually curable, if caught early. Even though basal and/or squamous cell cancers are slow to develop and do not normally spread to other parts of the body, melanoma starts in the deepest layers of the skin where our skin pigments are made, and can spread very quickly in the lymph system to places that do not even see sunlight (such as the mouth). Eyes are also vulnerable to melanoma.

Some of the greatest risk factors for developing skin cancer is having a family history of it, and too much exposure to UV radiation (sunlight and especially from tanning beds), especially if you have pale skin and are prone to severe burns. People with multiple or unusual looking moles are also more vulnerable to developing melanoma.

Exposure to large amounts of coal tar, paraffin, arsenic compounds, or certain types of oil can also be a risk factor.

But there are some simple ways to help diminish your risks of developing skin cancers:

• Avoid use of tanning lamps or beds
• Wear sunscreen when outside, even on cloudy days (SPF 30 or higher)
• Wear protective clothing/long sleeves, hats, and sunglasses

Remember that even though sunscreen helps, it does not protect you against all UV rays and should not be used as a “get out of cancer free card.” No matter what protection you have, it is not best to stay in the sun for long periods of time.

But when should you consult a physician?

Be on the lookout for any change in color of a patch of skin, or different color or size of a mole or a new growth. This even means if a mole’s color suddenly begins to leach beyond its usual borders. If that patch of skin or growth looks scaly is oozing or bleeding and never seems to heal, or begins to itch or becomes painful, it should be checked by your physician.

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