What exactly is skin cancer, and how can I prevent it?
Skin cancer is usually a result of too much sun exposure. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer. Many types of skin cancer are both preventable and treatable. There are 5 different types of skin cancer:
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form, accounting for 90% of all skin cancers. It starts in the basal cells, at the bottom of the outer skin layer. This skin cancer is caused by long-term exposure to sunlight. It is the most easily treated.
Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common type of skin cancer. It starts in the outer skin layer and eventually penetrates the underlying tissue if left untreated. It is easily treated when found early, but in a small percentage of cases, this cancer spreads to other parts of the body.
Malignant melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer, and it is responsible for the most deaths. However, it can be cured if it is diagnosed and removed early. Melanoma starts in moles or other growths on normal skin.
Kaposi sarcoma (KS) is caused by a virus in the herpes family. This aggressive AIDS-related form affects about one-third of people with AIDS. A more slow-growing form occurs in elderly men of Italian or Jewish ancestry.
Most skin cancers occur on parts of the body that are repeatedly exposed to the sun, including the head, neck, face, ears, hands, forearms, shoulders, back, lower legs, and chests of men.
Signs and Symptoms
Basal cell carcinoma:
Shiny bump that is pearly or translucent
Flat, flesh-colored lesion appearing anywhere on the body
Squamous cell carcinoma:
Hard, red nodule on face, lips, ears, neck, hands, arms
Flat lesion with scaly surface
Change in color, size, shape or texture of a mole
Skin lesion with irregular borders
Growth of an existing skin lesion
Large brown spot with darker speckles
Hard, dome-shaped bumps anywhere on your body
The only way to know for sure whether a mole or spot on your skin is cancer is to have a doctor look at it.
What Causes It?
Exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun is the main cause of skin cancer. Skin cancer may also be due to genetics or radiation treatments. A virus causes Kaposi sarcoma.
Who is Most at Risk?
People at risk for developing skin cancer may have the following conditions or characteristics:
Spend a lot of time outdoors in work or leisure activities
History of sunburn
Family history of skin cancer
Many moles, freckles, or birthmarks
Over age 40
Large dark-colored birthmark, known as congenital melanocytic nevus
Pre-cancerous skin lesions, such as actinic keratosis
HIV-positive. A specific risk for Kaposi sarcoma.
Excessive sun exposure during childhood
What to Expect at Your Provider's Office
Your doctor will examine your skin for new, changed, or unusual moles. Your doctor may use a dermatoscope, which is for close examination of skin growths. If your doctor suspects cancer, you will undergo a biopsy (where your doctor takes a sample of the skin). A biopsy can confirm whether or not you have skin cancer.
In most cases, you can prevent skin cancer. If you are at high risk, stay out of the sun. When you have to be in the sun, protect yourself by covering up, wearing a hat, and applying sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 and reapply liberally. Check your skin regularly for new or changing moles. You should also have regular skin cancer screenings with your primary health care provider or dermatologist.