5 Things You Need to Know About Skin Cancer
By L. Markham McHenry, D.O.
Skin cancer is one of the most important things I speak to my patients about, especially because Arizona has some of the highest rates in the country. In fact, a joint report by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that in 2009, more than 1400 people living here were diagnosed with melanoma.
Yet regardless of where you live, how much time you spend in the sun, and how fair your skin is, you’re at risk for skin cancer.
Here, read on for 5 things I tell my patients that you need to know too.
5 Things to Know
- More people are getting skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. There are more cases of skin cancer than breast, prostate, lung, and colon cancer combined. With approximately two million people who are diagnosed each year, it’s also on the rise.
- Some people have a higher risk than others. Although anyone can have skin cancer, people with fair skin, red or blonde hair, and blue eyes have a higher risk. Family history is risk factor, too. About 10 percent of people with melanoma have a family member who was also diagnosed.
- The types matter.
- Actinic Keratosis is a pre-skin cancer that shows up as scaly, pink lesions that can flake or scratch off. Actinic Keratosis is usually treated with cryotherapy, an in-office procedure that freezes the growths. Left untreated, up to 10 percent can become squamous cell carcinomas (SCC), a more serious form of skin cancer.
- Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) shows up as pink bumps or lesions and it may appear in areas of the body where there was a previous injury. BCC rarely spreads, but if it’s left untreated, it can invade deep down in the skin. There are various treatment options so it’s best to talk to your doctor about which one is right for you.
- Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is marked by scaly red patches, open sores, elevated growths with a central depression, or warts that may crust or bleed. SCC is directly linked to ultraviolet (UV) exposure from the sun and tanning beds. Like Basal Cell Carcinoma, there are many treatment options. If untreated, SCC can spread in the body.
- Melanoma, which has been on the rise for the past 30 years, is known as the “killer” of all skin cancers. Although the lifetime risk for developing melanoma is 2.4 percent and it accounts for less than 2 percent of all types of skin cancer, there are a large percentage of people who will die from it. The American Cancer Society estimates nearly 74,000 new cases will be diagnosed and almost 10,000 people will die from it this year. Men have a higher risk for melanoma and the average age of diagnosis is 62-years-old.
- Letters are the first signs. Although it’s unlikely that you would be able to tell the difference between the types of skin cancer, you should know what to look for. It’s an easy acronym:
- A – Asymmetry or irregular shapes
- B – Irregular borders
- C – Irregular colors
- D – Expanding diameter
- E – A skin lesion that’s evolving or becoming elevated
- It’s preventable and curable. Cancer is a frightening diagnosis, but when skin cancer is diagnosed and treated early, it’s the easiest of all cancers to treat and cure.
Religiously using sunscreen, wearing appropriate clothing, avoiding the sun, looking for skin changes, and making regular appointments with your physician to check for skin cancer are all essential!