Know Your Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the most common form of human cancer. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. Skin cancer generally develops in the epidermis, the outermost layer of skin, so a tumor is usually clearly visible.

There are three major types of skin cancer ? basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. Basal cell carcinomas and most squamous cell carcinomas are slow growing and highly treatable, especially if found early. Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer. It affects deeper layers of the skin and has the greatest potential to spread to other tissues in the body. Squamous cell carcinoma also can spread internally.

It is estimated that over 1 million new cases occur annually. The annual rates of all forms of skin cancer are increasing each year, representing a growing public concern. It has also been estimated that nearly half of all Americans who live to age 65 will develop skin cancer at least once. They usually form on the head, face, neck, hands and arms. Another type of skin cancer, melanoma, is more dangerous but less common.

For localized melanoma, the 5-year survival rate is 99%; survival rates for regional and distant stage diseases are 65% and 15%, respectively. Skin cancer is an increasingly common condition. This is in part attributed to increased exposure to ultraviolet radiation, which in turn is thought to be caused by the increased popularity of sun tanning. Solar or actinic keratoses are rough, red or brown, scaly patches on the skin. They are usually found on areas exposed to the sun, and sometimes develop into squamous cell cancer. Moles are clusters of heavily pigmented skin cells, either flat or raised above the skin surface.

While most pose no danger, some-particularly large moles present at birth, or those with mottled colors and poorly defined borders-may develop into malignant melanoma. Moles are frequently removed for cosmetic reasons, or because they're constantly irritated by clothing or jewelry. Skin cancer develops primarily on areas of sun-exposed skin, including the scalp, face, lips, ears, neck, chest, arms and hands, and on the legs in women. There are varieties of treatments available, including surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy, to treat skin cancer. The goals of treatment for skin cancer are to remove all of the cancer, reduce the chance of recurrence, preserve healthy skin tissue, and minimize scarring after surgery. Treatment for skin cancer depends on the type and size of cancer, your age, and your overall health.

Surgery is the most common form of treatment. It generally consists of an office or outpatient procedure to remove the lesion and check edges to make sure all the cancer was removed. Most skin cancer removal can be done using a local anesthetic.

Excisional biopsy ? The entire tumor along with a margin of tissue that is not a visible part of the tumor is removed. Incisional biopsy ? A portion of the lesion is removed during an incisional biopsy, which is usually performed when the lesion is large. In cryosurgery, tissue is destroyed by freezing to -40 C or below. Liquid nitrogen, the only cryogen effective in destroying malignant and premalignant skin tumors, is used. Radiation may destroy basal and squamous cell carcinomas if surgery isn't an option. Biological therapy-Interferon and interleukin-2 are under study to treat melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancers.

Skin Cancer Treatment Tips 1. Avoid prolonged exposure to the sun, especially between 10 a.m.

And 2 p.m. and during the summer months. 2. Excisional skin surgery is a common treatment to remove skin cancer. 3.

Mohs surgery (also called Mohs micrographic surgery) is often used for skin cancer. The area of the growth is numbed. 4. Electrodesiccation and curettage is often used to remove small basal cell skin cancers.

5. Cryosurgery is often used for people who are not able to have other types of surgery. 6. Avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.

m. 7. Use a high-factor sunscreen of at least SPF15 that filters out UVB and UVA and reapply it every two hours. 8. Wear protective clothing - a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses and loose, tightly woven clothing.

Juliet Cohen writes articles on diseases and conditions and women health care. More information on health related topics visit our site at

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