One of the most common but curable forms of the disease, skin cancer is classified into two groups: nonmelanoma skin cancer (basal & squamous cell carcinoma) and the more dangerous melanoma. Researchers estimate nearly half of all Americans who live to 65 will develop skin cancer at least once in their life.
Symptoms & Causes
It is often hard to self-identify basal cell carcinoma because cancerous growths are similar looking to moles. These spots also grow over time, but are unlikely to spread to other areas of the body. Squamous cell carcinoma can spread (metastasize). Exposure to the sun, those who are older and those with light-colored skin are more likely to develop basal & squamous cell carcinoma. On the other hand, melanoma is often first discovered by the patient. Symptoms of melanoma are typically only visual. When a new spot appears, the commonly accepted guide is to follow the ABCDs of detecting melanoma:
- Asymmetry – half the mole is different-looking from.
- Border – the outline of the border is not smooth, but uneven.
- Color – The spot has irregular patterns of several different colors
- Diameter – the spot is larger than a pencil eraser
Diagnosis & Treatment
Identifying skin cancer requires a doctor to perform a biopsy on the skin tissue to find a definitive diagnosis. Nonmelanoma skin cancers are treated in a variety of ways depending on the size and progression of the cancer, the doctor’s advice and the patient’s preference. Some common solutions: radiation therapy, desiccation, cryosurgery, medical therapy creams. Melanoma skin cancer is generally treated exclusively with surgery.
The key to preventing skin cancer is to avoid unprotected, direct sunlight. Other good tips: Wear brimmed hats, use waterproof sunscreen and avoid tanning beds.