As we approach summer, the height of everyday sun exposure, it's important to stay vigilant about our skin. Approximately 3.3 million people in America have skin cancer. The number of diagnosed cases continually increased, most likely due to better cancer detection technology. Left untreated though, skin cancer can be fatal. Skin cancers, including melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma, often start as changes to your skin. Noticing the change early can be life-saving! Let's take a closer look at what you can do to stay safe.
How Does a Cancer Cause Harm?
Cancer occurs when normal cells transform, grow, and multiply abnormally. As the cells multiply, they form a mass called a tumor. Tumors are only cancerous if they are malignant, meaning they invade the surrounding tissues. They overwhelm these tissues by invading their space and stealing the oxygen and nutrients they need to survive and function. Tumors may also spread to vital organs through the bloodstream.
The Big 3 of Skin Cancer
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC)
There's a reason why your parents made you put on sun screen as a child. Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell skin cancers grow on parts of your skin that receive a lot of sunlight. Basal cell carcinoma usually grows slowly and often does not show up for many years after the intense sun exposure. The main causes of BCC are ultraviolet rays from the sun or tanning beds. This cancer is unlikely to spread from your skin to other parts of your body. If caught early, effective treatments can keep the damage of BCC at bay.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)
Also caused by excessive sun exposure, SCC is the second most common form of skin cancer. Even though it is fairly slow-growing, it can spread to the tissues, bones, and nearby lymph nodes, where it may become hard to treat. The earlier the cancer is caught, the easier it is to treat. Certain things make you more likely to develop SCC including:
- Older age
- Blue, green, or grey eyes
- Blonde or red hair
- Sun exposure or tanning bed usage
- Long-term exposure to chemicals such as arsenic in the water
- Bowen's disease, HPV, HIV, or AIDS
- Exposed to radiation
- Inherited DNA condition
This type of skin cancer is the least common of the three main types but is also the most dangerous. Malignant melanoma can be difficult to treat. Early diagnosis and treatment can increase the survival rate from melanoma.
What are the Symptoms?
Keep an eye out for irregular sections or changes on your skin. Sometimes these may appear to like moles. You may also see a growth with blood vessels in it. The spot can be pink, brown, or black. A basal cell carcinoma originally comes up like a small bump that looks similar to a flesh-colored mole or pimple that doesn't go away. A dark or shiny pink scaly patch may appear. Other symptoms to watch out for are hard places on your skin that bleed easily. The ABCDE of skin cancer is a great model to follow when determining changes with your skin:
- Asymmetry – One side is different than the other.
- Border irregularity – The mark has uneven edges.
- Color – Melanomas are often a mixture of black, tan, brown, blue, red, or white.
- Diameter – How big is the mark?
- Evolution – Has it changed over time?
What You Can Do to Stay Safe!
Always take preventative measures such as applying sunscreen, avoiding prolonged sun exposure, and make sure to check your skin for abnormalities. Cancer is best treated when it is caught early. As soon as you see any skin abnormalities, consult your doctor. Your physician may conduct a screening, a test to determine if the abnormality is cancer. Your doctor will discuss the best treatment options with you if the test comes back positive.