Thursday, May 8, 2008

Health Care and Skin Cancer

It’s National Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month! According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, since 1996, May has been a time for educators and health professionals to spotlight skin cancer prevention, detection and treatment. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S., with over one million new cases diagnosed every year. Left untreated, skin cancers can be very dangerous, but with early detection — and intervention — most are curable. More than 250,000 cases are diagnosed each year, resulting in approximately 2,500 deaths each year, and 1 in 5 Americans and one in 3 Caucasians will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime. More than 90% of all skin cancers are caused by sun exposure, and your risk for skin cancer doubles if you have had five or more sunburns as reported by information on the SCF website.

The National Institute of Health reports that the two most common types are basal cell cancer and squamous cell cancer. They usually form on the head, face, neck, hands and arms. Another type of skin cancer, melanoma, is more dangerous but less common. Anyone can get skin cancer, but it is more common in people who:
--Spend a lot of time in the sun or have been sunburned
--Have light-colored skin, hair and eyes
--Have a family member with skin cancer
--Are over age 50

The NIH recommends that you should have your doctor check any suspicious skin markings and any changes in the way your skin looks. Treatment is more likely to work well when cancer is found early. If not treated, some types of skin cancer cells can spread to other tissues and organs. According to MedicineNet.com, a basal cell carcinoma usually begins as a small, dome-shaped bump and is often covered by small, superficial blood vessels called telangiectases. The texture of such a spot is often shiny and translucent, sometimes referred to as "pearly." It is often hard to tell a basal cell carcinoma from a benign growth like a flesh-colored mole without performing a biopsy. Some basal cell carcinomas contain melanin pigment, making them look dark rather than shiny. Superficial basal cell carcinomas often appear on the chest or back and look more like patches of raw, dry skin. They grow slowly over the course of months or years. Basal cell carcinomas grow slowly, taking months or even years to become sizable. Although spread to other parts of the body (metastasis) is very rare, a basal cell carcinoma can damage and disfigure the eye, ear, or nose if it grows nearby.

The information on MedicineNet.com goes on to talk in great detail about various types of skin cancers. They have extensive material about the disease, what causes it, how to avoid it with preventive measures, and how to get it treated. Good prevention techniques can include avoiding sun exposure in susceptible individuals. It is the best way to lower the risk for all types of skin cancer. Regular surveillance of susceptible individuals, both by self-examination and regular physical examination, is also a good idea for people at higher risk. People who have already had any form of skin cancer should have regular medical checkups. Common sense preventive techniques include:
--limiting recreational sun exposure.
--avoiding unprotected exposure to the sun during peak radiation times (the hours surrounding noon).
--wearing broad-brimmed hats and tightly-woven protective clothing while outdoors in the sun.
--regularly using a waterproof or water resistant sunscreen with UVA protection and SPF 30 or higher.
--undergoing regular checkups and bringing any suspicious-looking or changing lesions to the attention of the doctor.
--avoiding the use of tanning beds and using a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 and protection against UVA (long waves of ultraviolet light).

Squamous cell carcinoma is cancer that begins in the squamous cells, which are thin, flat cells that look like fish scales under the microscope. The word "squamous" came from the Latin squama, meaning "the scale of a fish or serpent" because of the appearance of the cells.
Squamous cells are found in the tissue that forms the surface of the skin, the lining of the hollow organs of the body, and the passages of the respiratory and digestive tracts. Thus, squamous cell carcinomas can actually arise in any of these tissues. Squamous cell carcinoma of the skin occurs roughly one-quarter as often as basal cell carcinoma. Light-colored skin and a history of sun exposure are even more important in predisposing to this kind of cancer than to basal cell carcinoma. Men are affected more often than women. Patterns of dress and hairstyle may play a role. Women, whose hair generally covers their ears, develop squamous cell carcinomas far less often in this location than do men as reported on MedicineNet.com.

Unlike basal cell carcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas can metastasize, or spread to other parts of the body. These tumors usually begin as firm, skin-colored or red nodules. Squamous cell cancers that start out within solar keratoses or on sun-damaged skin are easier to cure and metastasize less often than those that develop in traumatic or radiation scars. One location particularly prone to metastatic spread is the lower lip. A proper diagnosis in this location is, therefore, especially important. Based on information on MedicineNet.com, it is highly recommended you seek immediate treatment.

So here is Skin Cancer At A Glance:
1.) There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma (the nonmelanoma skin cancers), and melanoma.
2.) Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in humans.
3.) Ultraviolet light, which is in sunlight, is the main cause of skin cancer.
4.) The most common warning sign of skin cancer is a change in the appearance of the skin, such as a new growth or a sore that will not heal. Unexplained changes in the appearance of the skin lasting longer than two weeks should be evaluated by a doctor.
5.) Nonmelanoma skin cancer is generally curable. The cure rate for nonmelanoma skin cancer could be 100% if these lesions were brought to a doctor's attention before they had a chance to spread.
6.) Treatment of nonmelanoma skin cancer depends on the type and location of the skin cancer, the risk of scarring, as well as the age and health of the patient. Methods used include curettage and desiccation, surgical excision, cryosurgery, radiation, and Mohs micrographic surgery.
7.) Avoiding sun exposure in susceptible individuals is the best way to lower the risk for all types of skin cancer. Regular surveillance of susceptible individuals, both by self-examination and regular physical examination, is also a good idea for people at higher risk. People who have already had any form of skin cancer should have regular medical checkups.

The Mayo Clinic says that all three types of skin cancer are on the rise — but most skin cancers can be prevented by limiting or avoiding exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation and by paying attention to suspicious changes in your skin. And with early detection, you can receive successful treatment for most skin cancers, even the most aggressive forms. Don't play around with this skin condition as it only gets worse without treatment. Be careful in the sun and with outdoor activities. Cancer goes after anyone with no discrimination. Better to be safe than sorry.

Until next time. Let me know what you think.

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