May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, which means this is your friendly reminder to wear sunscreen and get any suspicious spots on your skin checked out. The Skin Cancer Foundation reports that 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer before turning 70.
As one of the most common types of cancer, it’s important to regularly get skin cancer screenings, be familiar with the prevention, know your risk factors, and recognize the early signs.
Why Are Regular Skin Cancer Screenings Important?
Melanoma is one of the easiest types of cancer to treat in the earliest stages. Also, because this cancer develops on the surface of the skin it is quite easy to detect. And of course, the earlier a tumor is detected, the better chances are for successful treatment.
How Often Should I Get Checked?
You should get screened for skin cancer at least once per year. However, that doesn’t mean you should wait to get a mole checked out if you’re worried about it. Whenever you notice a spot on your skin that concerns you, you should get a professional examination.
Can I Get A Screening Online?
Even though COVID restrictions are loosening up in Tennessee, it is possible to get advice from a skin care professional without an in-office appointment. If you notice a spot in an easy-to-reach area, you can take a high-quality picture and send it to an expert for evaluation.
What Are the Different Types of Skin Cancer?
Basal Cell Carcinoma
This type of skin cancer is the most common. It grows in the basal cells at the bottom layer of the epidermis. The basal cells create new layers of skin as the outer layers die and flake off.
Basal cell skin cancer grows rapidly but is also one of the least deadly skin cancer types. Because tumors grow quickly, they are easy to detect early on. Early detection of skin cancer significantly improves the survivability for the patient.
Furthermore, basal cell cancer has a very low risk of spreading to the body’s internal systems.
Signs of basal cell tumors differ from patient to patient. However, basal cell tumors have certain similarities.
- Open sores that don’t heal
- Dome-like growths that are pink, brown or black in color
- Small pearly bumps that grow over time
- Skin growths with a waxy, hard texture
- Scaly patches that are red or pink in color
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
This is the second most common type of skin cancer. Tumors occur in the middle and surface level of the dermis.
Most cases of squamous cell carcinoma are caused by uv exposure that comes from either normal sun exposure or from using tanning beds. Other causes include genital warts or HPV infections. As a result, tumors can also occur in or around the anus or genitals.
Just as basal cell lesions differ from patient to patient, so do squamous cell lesions. Signs of squamous cell carcinoma include:
- Pink, waxy growths
- Pink or reddish scaling or scabs
- Sharp, thorn-like stabbing pain around the lesion
- Lesions with raised, crusty edges
- Rough sores around the edge of the mouth
- Raised lesions with pink edges and scaly centers
Squamous cell cases grow moderately fast. It is best to catch these as early as possible because the cancer cells can spread to the lymph nodes and even to the lungs.
Of all the types of skin cancer, melanoma has the highest mortality rate. Melanoma is named after the cells where cancer develops, which are the melanocytes that produce melanin pigments in the skin.
The beginning signs of melanoma present mostly as new moles. It can also appear as a change to existing moles. The trouble is that detection requires the removal of calls for closer inspection.
In general, melanomas present in a wide range of shapes, sizes and colors. In order to detect this cancer early, doctors use the following ABCDE guidelines to assess the warning signs and the risk to the patient.
- Asymmetry: Moles of irregular shape and size.
- Border: Ragged, notched, blurred or otherwise irregular border. The pigment can even start spreading from the mole to the surrounding skin.
- Color: Melanoma skin cancer spots can present in multiple uneven shades and colors. Colors include black, brown, tan, white, gray, red, pink, and even blue.
- Diameter: Melanomas usually increase in diameter. Some may be small, but they generally grow to about 6 millimeters or more.
- Evolving: The precancerous mole has changed once or more during the past few weeks or months.
If you have a mole that matches these criteria, you should see a skin cancer surgeon in TN for a skin cancer exam.
What Causes Skin Cancer?
As mentioned earlier, exposure to UV radiation is the main cause of skin cancer. When human skin cells are exposed to prolonged ultraviolet (UV) radiation, it causes skin damage and damages DNA. Also, HPV infections are another possible cause.
There are a wide array of risk factors for skin cancer identified by The World Health Organization. Keep in mind that risk factors are separate from causes. Having light or fair skin does not cause skin cancer, but it does increase the chances someone has for developing skin cancer.
- Fair Skin – People with light skin that burns easily are more prone to sun damage from all types of UV rays.
- Sunburns – The most common form of skin damage. Chances for skin cancer increase dramatically after only a few sunburns.
- Prolonged Sun Exposure – You should always protect your skin from the rays of the sun. The longer your skin is exposed, the more damage will be done.
- Excessive Tanning – While not the same as the sun, tanning beds still damage your skin through UV radiation.
- Living in a Sunny Climate – There’s nothing wrong with living in a sunny climate, just remember to protect your skin on a daily basis.
- Living at a High Altitude – At higher altitudes, UV rays are more intense because they take less time to reach the earth.
- Abnormal Moles – Most moles are common, however, they can still develop into skin cancer. Keep an eye on them and use the ABCDE guidelines to keep an eye out for the early signs of skin cancer.
- Family History – Having a family history or skin cancer may mean that you’re more at risk for developing skin cancer.
- Past Cases of Skin Cancer – Cancer leads to permanent damage. Skin cancer is especially a sign of heightened risk for recurrent cases.
- Exposure to HPV – This virus can cause damage to skin cells and increases the risk of cancer.
- Age – Older people tend to have weaker immune systems, but also as time goes on people are exposed to more and more visible light.
- Ethnicity – White people are more likely than other ethnicities to develop skin cancer.
- Lifestyle – An outdoor-oriented lifestyle exposes you to more UV rays. Smoking and excessive alcohol use also lead to greater risks of cancer.
- Immunosuppression – People who take immunosuppressants for organ transplants or metal implants face a greater risk of cancer due to their weakened immune system.
How Can I Prevent Skin Cancer?
The first and foremost way to prevent skin cancer is to protect your skin from UV light. Use sunscreen frequently when out in the sun. Also, make sure to use sun-resistant clothing such as rash guards, sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats.
Get Regular Skin Cancer Screenings
At least once per year you should ask your doctor to check for skin cancer’s early signs.
What Treatments are There for Skin Cancer?
There are many techniques used to treat skin cancer. Early stages can be treated with creams, excision and ablation. Later stages may require more intensive surgeries and radiation therapy.
Skin Cancer Screenings at Garza Plastic Surgery
In Belle Meade, just outside of Nashville, Dr. Robert Garza offers skin cancer screenings and treatment. Call our office today to set up an appointment for skin cancer screening.