Be Sun Smart

Skin cancer is a serious health issue in the United States and one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.

 It’s the most common cancer in the United States and every day more than 8,500 persons are diagnosed with skin cancer. Skin cancer is classified as either melanoma, which is the least common type, and non-melanoma, which is much more common. 

Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are collectively referred to as non-melanoma skin cancer. Basal cell is the most common form of skin cancer and represents 80 percent of skin cancers diagnosed in the United States, or about 2.8 million cases per year. It is a local-non healing red bump or scaly spot of the skin usually on sun-exposed areas. Basal cell carcinoma has little or no metastatic potential, meaning that it rarely spreads. It is usually treated by biopsy and then surgical excision if the biopsy is positive. Simple excisional surgery is curative 99 percent of the time. 

Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common form of skin cancer and in 2012 there were approximately 700,000 cases diagnosed in the United States. It often appears as a scaly patch, warty growth or nonhealing ulcer on the skin. It usually appears on sun exposed areas, and squamous cell carcinoma does have a small metastatic potential, that is, it can spread to other parts of the body. Incidence of squamous cell carcinoma has increased 200 percent in the last 30 years and in 2012 approximately 3,900 people in the United States died from squamous cell carcinoma. 

Melanoma is the least common but most dangerous type of skin cancer. It accounts for approximately 10,000 deaths per year in the United States. When melanoma is detected before it becomes invasive, it is usually easily treated with excisional surgery. The five-year survival rate for melanoma which has not spread to the lymph nodes is 98 percent.    

People at risk for Melanoma are fair skinned caucasians. It is the most common cancer in patients between 25-29 years old. One American dies of melanoma every hour. 

Melanoma presents as a dark spot or changing mole on the skin. Usually black or dark brown, but it can also look red, pink, purple or non-pigmented. They occur in patients who have had numerous severe sunburns and are more common in persons with a family history for melanoma. 

Prevention is the best treatment. Avoid sunburn and intense sunlight at midday. Use a broad spectrum UVA/ UVB sunscreen. Cover up with long sleeves and a hat.

 Skin cancer is highly treatable when detected early, so see your dermatologist if you notice any new spot on your skin that is dark, irregular, changing, growing rapidly or bleeding.