Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer. The good news is that it is also very treatable, especially if found early. The risk of skin cancer is greater for some people and in some parts of the world. You may be surprised at how easy it is to determine your level of risk and to minimize them.
Take the Skin Cancer screening quiz at the end of the article to see where you stand in terms of skin cancer risk.
First, some background information.
There are three types of skin cancer that you need to be especially aware of. These are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and malignant melanoma. The most important preventable cause of these types of skin cancer is sun exposure, which can be significant, even during the winter months.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
The most common of all skin cancers, it effects close to one million people every year. Basal cell carcinoma may appear as an open sore, a reddish patch, a pink growth, a shiny bump or a scar like area. You should be suspicious of any changes that last longer than three weeks.
If caught early, though, the cure rate is greater than 95percent. If left untreated it can grow very large and invade locally. Rarely, it spreads to other sites and can be deadly. It looks like a pearly growth, sometimes with an area of redness in the center. It does not heal on its own and usually grows slowly. It occurs mostly on sun exposed parts of the body, and is most common in people 30-40 years old or older who have had lots of sun exposure over the years. A dermatologist or dermatologic surgeon should treat these.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Is the second most common skin cancer and in it's pre-cancerous state it may simply appear as a flaky red patch. If left untreated these cancer cells's can spread to distant tissues and organs.
It usually occurs after years of sun exposure, and mostly on sun-exposed parts of the body. 200,000 cases were diagnosed and treated in the United States last year, representing 16 percent of all skin cancers. Like basal cell carcinoma, this disease is 95 percent curable if caught early. It does have a slightly higher risk of spreading, and can be lethal if left untreated. It looks like a crusty, scaly patch with a hard, callousy surface, and is also best treated by a dermatologist or dermatologic surgeon.
The third most common and most deadly form of skin cancer. The signs of melanoma include pigmented lesions of asymmetrical size: uneven borders, varying shades of color and are larger in size than a pencil eraser is the most deadly, but fortunately, least common form of skin cancer. It accounts for about 4 percent of all skin cancers. This seems to be due mostly to genetic factors and multiple sunburns, especially before the age of 18. Melanoma looks like a brown to brownish black spot that can be flat or raised. It usually has uneven borders and more than one color. Sometimes it can bleed. It occurs more commonly on sun-exposed parts of the body, but can occur anywhere including the scalp, palms or soles, and even on the genitals.
Melanoma most commonly occurs in a mole that is already present, but can also occur on previously normal-appearing skin. This kind of skin cancer does spread internally and can be deadly if not caught early.
One person dies in the United States every hour from malignant melanoma. It is important to get to know all your existing moles and have any new or changing moles brought to the attention of your dermatologist as soon as possible. The changes don't necessarily mean skin cancer, but do get them checked out to put our mind at ease. Prevention and early detection of skin cancer are the keys to maximizing the best chances for curative treatment.
MelaFind Skin Cancer Detection
MelaFind is a brand new medical technology that may be used during a skin exam or mole check to help dermatologists see under the skins surface. MelaFind uses 10 different wavelengths of light to see into the skin and obtain hidden data from a mole as deep as 2.5mm. The purpose of MelaFind is to identify harmful moles that could be skin cancer. The process is quick, painless and results are given in under a minute.
Take the Quiz
What is your risk factor? Grade yourself to find out:
If your hair is:
Blonde or red, 4 points
Brunette, 3 points
Black, 2 points
If your eyes are:
Blue, green or gray, 4 points
Hazel, 3 points
Brown, black, 2 points
If you have freckles:
A lot of freckles, 5 points
Some freckles, 3 points
No freckles, 2 points
After one hour in the sun:
If you burn or blister, 4 points
If you burn then tan, 3 points
If you just tan, 1 point
Where do you work?
If you work outdoors, 4 points
If you work both outdoors and indoors, 3 points
If you work indoors, 2 points
If anyone in your family had skin cancer, give yourself 5 points OR
If no one in your family had skin cancer give yourself 1 point
Where did you live before the age of 18?
If you lived in the South, 4 points
If you lived in the Midwest, 3 points
If you lived in the North, 2 points
Now, add up the points to see what your risk factor is.
If you scored:
26-30 points, you are at very high risk
23-25 points, you are at high risk
16-22 points, your risk is average
10-15 points, your risk is below average
Here are a few simple measures you can take to minimize your risk of skin cancer:
Sun burning rays (UVB) are strongest between the hours of 10am and 3pm. Try to minimize you time outdoors during these hours.
The closer you live to the equator, the stronger the sun's rays.
The sun is also stronger at higher altitudes.
A tan is the body's defense against the sun. There is no healthy tan. A tan is always a sign of sun damage. Tanning booths are not safe. Studies have shown an increase in the risk of skin cancer in young people who use tanning booths.
Sunscreens must be applied thickly and reapplied every two hours. Water, wind, and sweat all cause sunscreen to be less effective. Use sunscreens that have an SPF of 15 or higher and that also block UVA.
Snow, sand and water reflect the sun's rays and greatly increase their intensity. Clouds do not completely block UVB so you can get sunburn on a cloudy day.
Additional clothing can help in protecting you from the sun. A broad brimmed hat protects the ears and face. There are also companies that make special clothing with sun protection factors built into them.
Every month, spend fifteen just fifteen minutes to give yourself a thorough once-over to check for skin cancer. This adds up to only three hours a year. If you see any changes in your moles or new moles, or non-healing growths, bring them to the attention of your dermatologist as soon as possible. This greatly increases you chances of finding any problems at an early stage when cure is the rule.
For you skiers and for those of you who are ready for that winter vacation in the sun, take a few extra minutes to protect your skin from the damaging effects of the sun, then enjoy, enjoy, enjoy.
Who is at Risk?
Everyone is at risk and should receive an annual skin cancer screening. People with fair skin, blond or red hair and blue, green or gray eyes are at high risks, as well as people who have worked or spent a lot of leisure time outdoors.
Skin Cancer Surgery
Dr. Doris Day is an expert in the treatment of pre-cancerous and cancerous skin lesions. All biopsies and surgeries are preformed in the comfort of our patient treatment rooms.
Remember To Wear Sunscreen Everyday!
Zinc and Titanium dioxide are the most effective physical sunscreens.
During the prolonged hours of sun exposure cover up, wear a hat and reapply your sunscreen every hour.
Remember that tanning booths also damage your skin. They accelerate aging cause pigmentation changes and increase your chance of developing skin cancer.
Call now for a consultation: (212) 772-0740