Skin Cancer: Know What to Look for and How to Reduce


Putting the Sparkle Back Into Your Relationship

Skin Cancer: Know What to Look for and How to Reduce

Ask the Surgeon / Health Tip / What’s New

Your Results Are In … Trends in 2001

According to the American Cancer Society, more than one million new cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed in the United States this year. One serious sunburn can increase the risk of getting skin cancer by as much as 50 percent. Do you know what to look for and how to lower your risk? Get educated on the types of skin cancers, causes, and prevention to lower your risk of this disease.

Types of skin cancer
Skin cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancerous) cells are found in the outer layers of your skin, called the epidermis. In this layer there are basal cells, squamous cells, and melanocytes; it is in these cells where cancer begins and grows. Below are the most prevalent skin cancers, although there are many other types not listed.

Basal cell carcinoma begins in the lowest layer of the epidermis called the basal cell layer. This is the most common form of skin cancer, accounting for 75 percent of persons diagnosed with skin cancer. This skin cancer usually develops on sun-exposed areas, such as the head and neck. It is slow to grow and usually does not spread to other areas of the body unless left unattended. Treatment may include simple excision, cryosurgery (liquid nitrogen freezes the abnormal cells), laser surgery, chemical peeling, and topical medications.

Squamous cell carcinoma starts in the squamous cells in the higher layers of the epidermis and is the second most common type of malignant skin cancer (approximately 20 percent). This type of cancer is more aggressive than basal cell carcinoma. The skin cancer usually appears on sun-exposed areas of the body, such as face, ears, neck, lips, and back of the hands. Treatment options include simple excision, cryosurgery, laser surgery, chemical peeling, and topical medications.

Malignant melanoma is more serious than basal or squamous cell carcinoma. The malignant cells are found in the cells that color the skin, melanocytes, in the epidermis. It can spread quickly to other parts of the body through the lymph system or through the blood. Early detection is crucial for complete recovery. Once it is detected, tests will be done to find out if the cancer cells have spread . this is called staging. After the doctor determines the stage of the disease, a treatment plan is started. Melanoma may be treated with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or biological therapy.

Cheek flaps can replace nasal skin and tissue lost due to cancer.
Photo courtesy of The Face Book , published by the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

Reduce your risk of skin cancer Ultraviolet (UV) light and sunburn damage your skin. The total amount of sun received over the years, and overexposure resulting in sunburn can cause skin cancer. Most people receive 80 percent of their lifetime exposure to the sun by 18 years of age. The likelihood of developing a skin cancer increases with age and non-melanoma (basal and squamous cell) skin cancer is more common in those over 40 years old. Risk factors such as family history of the disease, frequent sun exposure, a pale complexion, or light hair increase your chance of getting skin cancer. What can you do? Your facial plastic surgeon recommends the following tips to help reduce your risks.

  • Apply sunscreen or sunblock with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher 30 minutes before going outdoors.
  • Use sunscreen every two hours, even on cloudy days.
  • Reapply sunscreen after swimming or perspiring (even if you use waterproof sunscreen).
  • Minimize exposure to the sun between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Wear protective clothing, including a wide- brimmed hat to protect your skin.
  • Refrain from unnecessary UV exposure with a sunlamp or a tanning salon.
  • Apply sunscreen liberally and frequently to your children’s skin. The chemicals in sunscreens decompose over time; replace yours every season for maximum benefit.

Self-examination once a month

The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends that you examine every inch of your skin on a monthly basis. Most people have moles and age spots; these areas are particularly important to keep an eye on. Check these regularly to see if they are changing, becoming irregular, irritated, or larger.

The following ABCD warning signs are helpful to keep in mind during the self- examination:

  • Asymmetry one side is shaped differently;
  • Borders irregular edges that appear blurry or uneven;
  • Color the pigment is varied or black;
  • Diameter the width is larger than the head of a pencil eraser (six millimeters).

Any new growths on your skin should be checked by your physician. Skin cancer can appear as a sore that won’t heal, a small shiny lump, a reddish brown spot, or a rough scaly bump. Not all changes in your skin are skin cancer, however, it is wise to have it checked by your physician.