Exposure to ultraviolet light, either natural or artificial, is the principal cause of skin cancer. Blue eyed, light haired and fair skinned individuals are at greatest risk, but skin cancer can occur even in the most darkly pigmented people. Ultraviolet light from tanning salons also increases one’s likelihood of developing skin cancer. People who work outdoors and those who spend a lot of time outdoors are at increased risk for skin cancer. Swimmers should remember that the sun’s rays can penetrate deeply into water. Sunlight reflects off sand and snow so there is increased exposure to ultraviolet radiation at the beach or in the mountains. Also, as altitude increases, so does radiation exposure, resulting in sunlight damage when skiing or during other high altitude activities.
Over one million new cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed this year. Most of these are basal and squamous cell cancers, which are highly curable if treated early. Another type of skin cancer, melanoma, arises from pigment cells and is also curable if caught early, but can be fatal if left untreated. Melanoma will result in about 7500 deaths this year. An individual born today has a 1 in 75 chance of developing a melanoma during his or her lifetime.
Precancerous Skin Growths
Individuals, particularly those who are fair skinned and who have had large amounts of sunlight exposure over the years, may develop growths called solar keratoses. These are red, pink, yellow, tan or brown scaling patches, commonly found on the face, chest. upper back, neck, forearms and backs of the hands. They may itch or hurt, but they may also produce no symptoms. These growths may develop into squamous cell cancers, making regular examination of the skin, by a physician, essential.
Early Detection Of Skin Cancer
Since skin cancers are readily curable when diagnosed and treated in their early stages, it is essential that these growths be detected early. Everyone should examine his or her skin at monthly intervals. By doing this, suspicious growths, or changes in moles, will be noted in their earliest phases. These can then be reported, to a physician for prompt evaluation. Skin cancers may appear as a scaly patch, a pearly nodule, a warty growth or a sore that doesn’t heal. Detection of melanoma can be remembered by the ABCD’S:
- Asymmetry – one half of the mole does not match the other half
- Border irregularity – the edges of the mole are ragged,- notched or blurred
- Color – pigmentation is not uniform. Shades of tan, brown, black, red, white or blue may be present and give a mottled appearance
- Diameter – greater than 6 millimeters ( the size of a pencil eraser)
- It is wise to have a total skin examination by a physician every one to two years.
Treatment Of Skin Cancers
Skin cancers may be treated by:
- Excision with a scalpel
- Electrosurgery ( destruction of the tumor by heat )
- Cryosurgery ( destruction of the tumor by cold )
- Laser surgery
- Radiation therapy
- MOHS Micrographic Surgery ( specialized surgery for advanced cancers or cancers in difficult locations )
- Chemosurgery ( destruction of the tumor with anti-cancer chemicals )
Prevention Of Skin Cancers
Avoidance of exposure to ultraviolet radiation is the most important means of preventing skin cancer. Protective clothing, including the wearing of a wide brimmed hat, is important. A broad spectrum sunscreen ( blocking both UVB and UVA rays ) should be applied to all exposed skin, one hour prior to ultraviolet exposure. Outdoor activities should be scheduled prior to 10 A.M. or after 3 P.M., whenever possible.