Did you know that skin cancer is by far the most common type of cancer? Every year, more than five million people are diagnosed with skin cancer. One in five Americans will receive a skin cancer diagnosis in their lifetime.
Early diagnosis and treatment is critical. Here’s what you need to know:
Are You at Risk?
Anyone can develop skin cancer, but some things can increase your risk:
Sun exposure. Frequent or intense exposure to the sun causes cumulative damage to your skin.
Fair hair and skin. People with fair skin and blonde or red hair are more vulnerable to the effects of sun exposure.
Tanning beds. Ultraviolet radiation is a proven carcinogen and one of the most damaging skin exposures is the use of tanning beds. In fact, more people develop skin cancer because of tanning than develop lung cancer because of smoking.
Family history. Some skin cancers – in particular, melanoma – may have a genetic component. If another family member has been diagnosed, you may be at higher risk.
Age. Because skin damage is cumulative, your risk increases as you grow older.
Signs and Symptoms
There are three major types of skin cancer.
Basal cell carcinoma. This is the most commonly-occurring cancer in the United States.
Basal cell carcinomas look like abnormal growths on the skin – small sores, red patches, pink or pearly bumps, scars, or other non-healing abnormalities. They may resemble other, non-cancerous skin conditions, like psoriasis or eczema. Basal cell carcinoma rarely spreads to other organs or systems, but if it becomes too large, removing it can cause scarring or damage to nerve and muscle tissue.
Squamous cell carcinoma. Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most commonly diagnosed skin cancer in the United States – and it is on the rise. It is the most common type of cancer diagnosed in African-Americans.
Squamous cell carcinoma may look like a scaly red patch; a sore that heals and then reappears and bleeds; or a wart or growth with an indentation in the center. If it is not removed, it may cause disfigurement. In rare cases, if it is left untreated, it may become deadly.
Melanoma. Melanoma is the least common form of skin cancer – but it is by far the deadliest. One person dies of melanoma every 54 minutes. If you have had more than five sunburns, or if you have a lot of moles (more than 100), you are at increased risk of melanoma.
Because melanoma is so dangerous, early diagnosis and treatment are crucial. Early treatment gives the individual a good chance of a full recovery.
To identify melanoma early, know your ABCDEs:
- Asymmetry: a mole, growth, or brown spot that is not symmetrical (irregular in shape) may be melanoma.
- Border: most moles have smooth borders; melanomas typically have uneven, ragged borders.
- Color: most moles are all one shade of brown; melanomas may be several different shades of brown, red or blue.
- Diameter: Most moles are smaller than the tip of a pencil eraser; melanomas tend to be larger.
- Evolving: Moles can change over time. A mole that is changing – becoming larger, changing color, developing a bump, itching or bleeding – should be seen by a dermatologist immediately.