Now that temperatures have warmed up, we are enjoying more time in the sun. That means it is even more important to take proper precautions to keep our bodies safe from skin cancer.
Skin cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer, affecting one in five Americans. Each year in the United States, more than 3.3 million people are treated for skin cancer.
Skin cancer is the abnormal growth of skin cells on the top layer of your skin. It primarily develops on areas exposed to the sun — face, lips, legs, hands, neck, chest and scalp. It can also form on areas that rarely see light — genital areas, palms, and beneath your fingernails or toes. There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma.
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer. It usually develops in sun-exposed areas of your body, like your face or neck. Symptoms include a flat, flesh-colored or brown scar-like lesion, or a pearly or waxy bump.
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Squamous cell carcinoma also develops on sun-exposed areas of your body, like your face, ears and hands. It may appear to be a firm, red nodule; or a flat lesion with a scaly, crusted surface.
The most dangerous type of skin cancer is melanoma. It is often caused by ultraviolet radiation from sunshine or tanning beds. The cancerous growths develop when unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells trigger mutations, leading to malignant tumors. Symptoms 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 on your palms, soles, fingertips, toes, mouth, nose, vagina or anus.
More than 10,000 people a year reportedly die from melanoma in the United States.
To diagnose skin cancer, a physician will examine the skin, and remove a sample of questionable spots for testing. Treatment for skin cancer depends on the type of cancer, size and location. Treatment options may include freezing the skin cancer with liquid nitrogen, excisional surgery to cut out cancerous tissue, Mohs surgery to remove the skin growth layer by layer, or cryotherapy to scrape away layers of cancer cells and freeze the edges of the treated area with liquid nitrogen. Additional treatment for melanoma may include radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
Skin cancer can affect anyone, so you should always take the necessary steps to keep your skin safe. Wear sunscreen year-round, avoid the sun during the middle of the day, wear protective clothing and avoid tanning beds.
Check your skin monthly to catch new lesions early, and visit a physician annually for a skin examination. If you have fair skin, a history of sunburns, moles, precancerous skin lesions, a family history of skin cancer, or spend considerable time in the sun, take extra precautions to protect yourself.
Dr. Jessica Pennington is with KentuckyOne Health Primary Care Associates