The Skinny on Skin Cancer

While no form of cancer is a laughing matter, some forms are often considered less dangerous by most people. Skin cancer is one such form that seems somewhat innocuous, but is actually very dangerous.

The Shinny on Skin Cancer

Any way you cut it, cancer is a scary thing. Next to AIDS, cancer is just about the last thing you want to hear when you are at the doctor’s office. Although medical research has come a long way when it comes to treating many forms of cancer, it is still a horrific diagnosis. Throw in the fact that chemotherapy treatment is brutal to undergo, and you have a deadly disease with as nearly a deadly treatment.

As you probably know by now, there are many different forms of cancer. Some are slow growing and treatable, while others prove to be terminal in nearly every case. This leads many to consider some cancers more serious than others. In truth, all cancers are serious and some of the ones that people brush off as not serious can kill you. Skin cancer is one such form.

So, what is skin cancer? A simple description is the abnormal growth of cells on your skin. It tends to be categorized in three ways – melanoma, basal and squamous. Anyone can get skin cancer, but individuals with fair skin tend to be more susceptible. Dark tans or naturally dark skin do not protect you against skin cancer – a common misconception.

Of the three types of skin cancer, melanoma is the most aggressive and deadly. Fortunately, it is also the rarest of the three. Melanoma is usually considered to be associated with moles, but not always. The association is often made because melanoma often is found with collections of melanocytes, cells that produce the black pigment found in moles. To the naked eye, it can be difficult to tell the difference between moles and melanoma. If you have moles, and most people do, the key is to watch for any changes to the moles such as expansion, bleeding or itching. If melanoma is not treated early, it can spread to your lymph nodes and then the rest of the body.

Basal cell and squamous skin cancer are more common, but far less deadly. Basal tends to stick to the impacted area of the skin and not spread to the internal body. It should be treated, but is rarely considered a terminal situation. Squamous is a less common than Basal, but packs more of a punch. Although it can spread, it tends to appear as red, open sores when it does. Unless you completely fail to use common sense by seeing a doctor at some point, it rarely makes it to a terminal state.

Unlike many forms of cancer, skin cancer is preventable if you use common sense. If you are going to be outside in the sun for a significant time, wear sun block with a SPF 15 rating or better. Avoid tanning booths, which can cause the same damage as the sun. If you have moles, check them once a month in the mirror for any noticeable changes, bleeding. If a mole starts to itch, it is time to make an appointment with a dermatologist.

Are Redheads More Prone to Skin Cancer?

Everyone knows that redhead sunburn easier. But do they get skin cancer easier? New research indicates that the pigment in their skin may instigate cancer even if they don’t suffer from sunburns. As you may have heard, getting sunburns in childhood is a risk factor for skin cancer, even later in life.

Who is prone to sunburn? Of course if you have light colored eyes, hair and skin, you are at higher risk. This combination is frequent among redheads. Redheads have a different type of melanin than people with dark hair. Blondes even carry some of the same pigments as redheads.

Duke University said that the melanin in redheads is more vulnerable to damage from the sun’s UV rays. Redheads, under exposure to the sun, developed a reaction of oxidative stress. This is where damage to DNA and cells may occur and over time, form cancer. Research used UVA and UVB rays for testing. UVA can cause damage without burning.

Sunscreens protect against UVB, but its not been shown to help against UVA. Sure, some protection is there, but the FDA will need to set guidelines for consumers. It all boils down to this: wear sunscreen and put it on your kids.

Here’s what you do:

  1. Apply plenty of sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher and reapply every 2 hours or as indicated on the bottle.
  2. Reapply after swimming, sweating, even drying with a towel.
  3. Apply even during cloudy days.
  4. Avoid the sun in the middle of the day. 10 and 4 is indoor time.
  5. Wear a hat, clothing and sunglasses.
  6. Take care of the kids. Overexposure early in life may lead to skin cancers later in life.

Even so, the FDA has a warning label:

“Warning -This product does not contain a sunscreen and does not protect against sunburn. Repeated exposure of unprotected skin while tanning may increase the risk of skin aging, skin cancer, and other harmful effects to the skin even if you do not burn.”

3 Types of Skin Cancer – Most Common – What Do You Know About Them?

The three types of skin cancer, most common, are Basal Cell Cancer, Squamous Cell Carcinoma and Melanoma, in that order.

Basal Cell Skin Cancer is the worlds most common and affects more than one million people in the US each year. It rarely spreads; it grows slowly and is highly curable in the early stages. Nevertheless, no one should take basal cell cancer lightly as it can be quite disfiguring if not properly treated promptly. Almost all of this type of cancer occurs on body parts most exposed to the sun and is a result of sun damage.

Squamous Cell Skin Cancer is the second most common. It also grows slowly but as it does grow, it can suddenly change to a faster rate. Such was the case with me. When this happens, it can grow inward and can reach vital organs. The growth is usually local and it can affect close organs. Again it is usually caused by sun damage due to overexposure. The sun damaged skin can be unnoticeable; however a person would feel a rough scaly patch on their skin. This is precancerous and can go a long time (years) without much change or noticeable growth. This condition is known as actinic keratosis. It can develop into squamous cell carcinoma. In this precancerous stage it can be removed by a dermatologist spraying liquid nitrogen and freezing the affected area. It is highly curable in the early stages. Mine spread to a stage 3 and it was successfully removed, although more difficult and more damaging in side effects, both short and long term.

Melanoma is the third most common of the types of skin cancer. About 50,000 cases of malignant melanoma are diagnosed in the US every year and the number is increasing. It is estimated that 1 in 70 people will develop melanoma in their lifetime. About 8,000 per year lose their lives to malignant melanoma. It usually develops as a pigmented mole or dark spot on the skin, but can also be pale in color, making it appear innocent. Although it is the most deadly, it is also highly curable in the earliest stages.

The prognosis for malignant melanoma is greater if it has not spread beyond the outer layer of the skin into the lymph nodes or other places in the body.

The best protection would be to avoid over exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun or tanning beds and live a healthy life style for a strong immune system.

Learn to do regular self skin exams to be watching for changes in moles, freckles, or any new occurrence on your skin. It’s you who has the first chance to spot it.

To learn more about these 3 common types and other rare types of skin cancer visit the website given below.

Always seek the advice of your doctor, dermatologist or qualified health professional when you see something suspicious happening on your skin.