As summer begins and more time is spent outdoors, it’s important to regularly check your body for skin cancer. It’s also helpful to learn the common locations where skin cancer often develops so you can catch cancer early.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. The American Academy of Dermatology estimates skin cancer affects nearly one in five Americans in their lifetime, and more than 3.3 million people each year.
Skin cancer is the abnormal growth of skin cells. It originates with the cells on the top layer, or epidermis, of your skin. However, in advanced stages, this disease can also spread to other tissues and organs. It’s important to regularly look for any skin changes, and to pay special attention to moles that have appeared or changed shape. The main risk factor for skin cancer is regular exposure to ultraviolet light — both sunlight and tanning beds. The most common types of skin cancer — basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma — result from repeated UV exposure over the years. Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is typically a result of a sunburn or intense, occasional UV exposure.
The face is the most common area for skin cancer since it is exposed to sunlight daily. Cancer that develops on the face is typically basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Signs of basal cell carcinoma include a flat, flesh-colored or brown scar-like lesion, or a pearly or waxy bump. Signs of squamous cell carcinoma include a firm, red nodule or a flat lesion with a scaly, crusted surface.
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The scalp is another common area for skin cancer, both for non-melanoma types of cancer, as well as melanoma. Signs include a large brownish spot with darker speckles, a mole that changes in color or size, a small lesion with an irregular border that appears red, white, blue or black, or dark lesions. While those who are bald are vulnerable to this cancer developing on their head, people with full hair can also have melanoma appear on the scalp.
In addition, it’s important to also keep an eye on other common skin cancer locations, such as the neck, hands, chest and back, legs, palms of hands, soles of feet and nail beds. While less common, it’s also important to note that skin cancer can show up in places that don’t see the sun, like beneath the fingernails, toenails or the genital area.
If you notice a questionable spot on your body, visit your physician for testing. If it is skin cancer, treatment might include freezing the skin with liquid nitrogen, removing the skin growth layer by layer, or surgery to cut out cancerous tissue. Additional treatment for melanoma might include radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
While skin cancer is common, it is also preventable. Protect yourself by using sunscreen year-round, wearing wide-brimmed hats, avoiding tanning beds and visiting a physician annually for a skin examination.
Clair Palley is with KentuckyOne Health Primary Care Associates.