Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer diagnosed in the United States. Annually, there are more than 5.4 million new cases of non-melanoma skin cancers. While there are fewer cases of melanoma, the incidence of this cancer is on the rise. Many of these cancers can be prevented by protecting skin from excessive sun exposure and avoiding indoor tanning.
The three main types of skin cancer are:
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Less common forms of the disease are Merkel Cell Carcinoma, Kaposi Sarcoma and Lymphoma of the skin.
Both Basal Cell and Squamous Cell cancers often develop on areas of the skin that gets the greatest exposure to the sun (face, head and neck areas, arms and hands).
Melanoma develops deeper in the skin in the melanocytes. These damaged cells can develop anywhere on the body but are most commonly seen on the back and chest of men, and on women’s legs. They are also seen on the head and neck.
Some risk factors for skin cancer include:
Exposure: History of sunburns especially at younger ages, or exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun or tanning beds at any age put a person at an increased risk.
Skin & hair color: People with fair skin, freckling or red or blond hair have a higher risk.
Moles: Certain types of moles and a large number of moles increase a person’s chance of getting melanoma.
Age: Chances of being diagnosed with skin cancer increase with age, however damage done to the skin by the sun’s harmful rays begins at a very young age, as soon as skin is exposed to the sun.
Gender: Women have a higher risk of being diagnosed before the age of 50 and men are at a higher risk of being diagnosed after the age of 50. After age 65, the rates for men are double compared to women and triples by age 80.
Family History: Having a personal or family history of skin cancer can increase a person’s risk for developing the disease.
Some signs and symptoms of skin cancer or melanoma can be identified by using the ABCDE’s of skin cancer:
Asymmetry-half of the mole does not match the other half
Border irregularity or edges which are ragged or notched
Color is not the same all over; may be brown, blue, red, or white
Diameter is wider than about ¼ inch
Evolving-mole continues to change in shape, color, size or doesn’t heal
If changes are found that do not go away, you should contact your primary care physician or dermatologist for a professional assessment. When signs and symptoms of cancer are found early, it may be easier to treat and prevent complications.
A complete physical exam and medical history should be done. The exam will check for any unusual physical signs. A complete medical history is also important to fully understand a person’s health habits, family history, previous illnesses, and past exposure. Additional testing may include:
Shave, punch or excisional biopsy
Imaging: CT, MRI, PET-CT
What you need to know about sunscreen
Always wear sunscreen when you are outside
Apply sunscreen 15–30 minutes before sun exposure, don’t forget to apply to lips, ears, nose and tops of feet
Re-apply sunscreen liberally every 90 minutes to exposed skin
Reapply after toweling OR becoming sweaty OR getting wet
Wear protective clothing, hats and sunglasses
All people, regardless of skin or eye color need protection
Follow directions on sunscreen for use on babies less than 6 months old
Stay indoors between 10AM and 4PM, seek shade when outdoors
Use extra caution when near reflective surfaces like water, snow, and sand
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends choosing a sunscreen that states on the label:
Broad Spectrum: A sunscreen that protects from both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays.
SPF 30 or Higher: How well a sunscreen protects from sunburn.
Water Resistant or Very Water Resistant: Sunscreens are not waterproof or sweatproof and need to be reapplied.
Helpful Patient Resources:
We understand that receiving a cancer diagnosis can be a very scary and emotional time for the patient and their families. It is very important to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your oncologist. We highly recommend that if you do any research about your disease, that you do so only with reputable sources. For your convenience, we’ve listed some below.