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Facts About Skin Cancer
- With the harmful effects of ultraviolet light being the most prevalent cause of skin cancer, easily the most effective way to prevent skin cancer is by reducing exposure to these rays or by wearing sunscreen when exposure is expected
- Other skin cancer risk factors include exposure to certain chemicals, genetics and age
- The three types of skin cancer are squamous cell skin cancer, basal cell skin cancer and melanoma skin cancer. Melanoma is the most dangerous form of the three
- Skin cancer treatment methods such as chemotherapy and surgery are available if a serious situation develops, though prevention and early skin cancer detection are the most effective means at combating this potentially fatal disease
Our skin is the largest organ of our body and it acts as a protective shield against heat, cold, injury and infection. Storing vitamin D, water and fat in addtion to helping regulate body temperature, the skin’s functions are vital to the body’s health. However, the skin is also at risk to the exposure of outside elements, especially the ultraviolet rays of the sun. Affecting over 1 million people in the United States annually, skin cancer is recognized as the most common cancer today. Skin cancer is the occurrence of a malignant growth on the skin that may result from several causes. Our skin is divided into two primary layers, the epidermis and dermis. Skin cancer develops usually in the outermost layer of our skin, the epidermis.
The most prevalent skin cancer cause is the Ultra Violet (UV) rays of the sun. The UV rays are categorized as UVA and UVB. The effects of UVA rays on the skin are the production of vitamin D, sunburns and sun tanning. But scientists are stating that the UVB rays are the main cause of skin cancer. Be aware of the UV rays also used in tanning salons as these have also been linked to causing skin cancer. Therefore, it is very important to use products that have a high skin protection factor or SPF, that help protect your skin against both UVA and UVB rays.
There are other causes of skin cancer including exposure to chemicals, genetics, and age. It is important to be informed and aware of your risk factors for skin cancer.
Skin cancer can be divided into two different groups: melanoma and non-melanoma.
Melanoma skin cancer is a less common but more dangerous form of skin cancer because it is more likely to attack nearby tissues in the skin and spread to other parts of the body. When the melanocytes (cells that make melanin, the pigment that colors the skin) become cancerous they start growing and dividing. It can occur anywhere on the body usually in adults but can be found in adolescents and children. In men it is usually on the trunk (shoulders to hips), head and neck area. In women it usually develops on the arms and legs. Malignant melanoma gets worst with exposure to the UV rays and it is the leading cause of death from skin disease.
Non-melanoma is the most common form of skin cancer and is further divided into 2 types called basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC).
Basal cell carcinoma is the most prevalent form of skin cancer. Although this type of cancer is malignant, it usually does not spread to other parts of the body, but it may be disfiguring to the affected area if not detected early and treated. BCC is caused due to genetic factors or hereditary causes, it also occurs due to over exposure to the UV rays of the sun. Age can be a factor contributing to non-melanoma skin cancer, as people over the age of 40 are commonly affected. This form of skin cancer is mostly seen in people having fair complexion, light hair and eyes. Almost two-thirds of BCC occurs on the body parts that are most exposed to the sun. The remaining one-third occurs on body parts that are usually covered and that actually emphasizes on genetic susceptibility of the patients.
Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common type of skin cancer that can affect the skin most exposed to the sun like the face, hands, back of the neck, scalp and ears. It can also be on the lips, inside the mouth and on the genitalia. The appearance can be crusted or scaly patches with a red inflammed base with a tumor growing or unhealed ulcer. It is possible for SCC to spread to other parts of the body if not detected early and treated. People most commonly affected are the elderly, persons with fair complexions, and those who have had multiple sun burns and long exposures to the sun.
The common symptoms of BCC and SCC include:
• A new growth on the surface of the skin that gets larger and is multi-colored, black, brown, tan, pearly or translucent.
• A noticeable change in an existing mole, birthmark or any brown spot with abnormal borders and texture changes.
• A stubborn sore that cannot be healed, usually within three weeks.
• A sore that persistently bleeds, itches, scabs, hurts, or crusts over.
Treating Sking Cancer:
The treatment of skin cancer is highly dependent on the type of skin cancer, location and size. The doctor will take into consideration the age and overall health of the patient.
The treatment procedure also depends on the process of diagnosis. Sometimes a minor biopsy can remove skin cancer. There are 3 main kinds of skin cancer treatments:
Surgery: This treatment involves cutting the cancer out of the skin and may include removing healthy surrounding tissues for precautionary purposes. Other surgical procedures or treatments include Cryo surgery, Curettage & electrodessication, Mohs (micrographic) surgery and Laser surgery. Mohs surgery is very advantageous as it causes minimum scarring by removing one thin layer at a time and is then evaluated immediately to determine continuation of procedure. Also, the cure rates are quite successful.
Chemotherapy: This treatment involves administering chemical drugs to stop the cancer growing cells. Topical chemotherapy and Systemic chemotherapy are the two essential parts of treatment. The former is meant for tumors that are usually superficial and have not exceeded the top layers of the skin. This treatment has minimum side effects but may cause skin reddening and inflammation. The systemic methods are usually administered by injecting medicines into the veins, body cavities or orally through pills.
Radiation therapy: This form of treatment uses powerful energy known as ionizing radiation to kill the cells causing cancer and to shrink the tumors. The cancer cells in the targeted tissue area is destroyed and by damaging their genetic makeup, these cells are unable to grow and divide. Radiation can also destroy some good tissue however, this tissue can heal and return to normal. Different types of radiation in addition to different delivery methods are based on depth, size and location of the cancer.
Prevention: Prevention of skin cancer is important and the most prevalent way is by avoiding the harmful UV rays. Avoiding multiple sunburns, especially in adolescent years, is very important. The clothing you wear is also very important. Wear clothes that cover the majority of your skin and head. Hats and scarves should be worn when outside and be mindful of wearing sunglasses to protect your eyes as well. If you cannot cover all skin areas, always use sunscreen protection with a high SPF.
Self examination as a means of prevention is a very important way of knowing your skin’s status. Using a mirror or with the help of a family member, look over your complete body and note the skin spots, moles and other markings that are normal. Do this regularly so that if and when there is an abnormality in your skin, you can identify it and see how it changes. If noted, consult a dermatologist or your physician for further help. Try not to panic, it may not be skin cancer, but prevention is always better than cure.
The information supplied in this article is not to be considered as medical advice and is for educational purposes only.
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