SKIN CANCER

Skin Cancer

Identifying Signs of Skin Cancer

Melanoma
Malignant melanoma is a serious skin cancer that arises in moles or in the tanning cells of the skin. It is easily treated in its early stages. In later stages, malignant melanoma metastasizes (spreads) to other vital organs of the body. At these later stages of development, treatment is not always successful, and malignant melanoma can kill you.

People at high risk of developing the disease are those who have:
  • a family history of melanoma, or who have had a melanoma in the past
  • unusual moles on the skin, or changing moles
  • fair skin, light hair and eye color, and who sunburn easily or tan with difficulty
  • a record of painful or blistering sunburns as children or teenagers
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common skin cancer
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) affects about 800,000 Americans each year. 

The major cause of BCC is chronic exposure to sunlight, and, as you might expect, BCC's are most commonly found on exposed parts of the body such as the face, ears, neck, scalp, shoulders and back. 

Although anyone with a history of sun exposure can develop BCC, people at highest risk are those with fair skin, blond or red hair and blue, green or grey eyes. 

When removed promptly, BCC's are easily treated in their early stages. The larger the tumor, more extensive treatments may be needed. Although this skin cancer hardly ever metastasizes (spreads) to other vital organs, it can damage surrounding tissue and even lead to the loss of an eye, ear or nose. 

Squamous Cell Carcinoma
The second most common skin cancer
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) affects about 100,000 Americans each year. 

The major cause of SCC is prolonged exposure to Ultra Violet light. SCC's are most commonly found on exposed parts of the body such as the face, ears, neck, scalp, shoulders and back. 

Although anyone with a history of sun exposure can develop SCC, people at highest risk are those with fair skin, blond or red hair and blue, green or grey eyes. 

People with dark skin, such as individuals of African descent, are far less likely than those with fair skin to develop skin cancer. More than two thirds of the skin cancers that do develop in dark-skinned individuals, however, are SCC's. 

If found early on, SCC's can be easily treated. The larger the tumor, the more extensive treatments may be needed. Although this skin cancer rarely metastasizes (spreads) to other vital organs, when it does, it is frequently fatal. 

Actinic keratosis

An actinic keratosis (AK) is a scaly or crusty bump that arises on the surface of the skin. While the scale or crust may be horny, dry and rough, often easier to feel than to see, the base may be light or dark, tan, pink, red, a combination of these colors or the same color as the skin. Sometimes AK’s itch or can be tender to the touch. 

AK’s are most likely to appear on exposed skin such as the face, ears, bald scalp, neck, backs of hands and forearms and lips. They develop slowly and can become as large as a quarter of an inch. Once an AK occurs, it may disappear only to reappear later. AK’s rarely develop alone, and they are often seen several at a time. 

What causes actinic keratosis and what is the danger?
  • Sun exposure is the cause of almost all AK’s. Sun damage to the skin accumulates over time, so an AK may be considered a negative dividend of a life spent in the sun.
  • Actinic keratosis can be the first step in the development of skin cancer. It is considered a precursor of cancer or a pre-cancer.
  • Up to 10 percent of active lesions (e.g.: those redder and more tender than the rest) will progress to squamous cell carcinomas (SCC).
  • SCC’s are usually not life threatening, provided they are detected and treated in the early stages. However, if this is not done, SCC’s can grow large and invade the surrounding tissues and, on rare occasions, metastasize or spread to the internal organs.
  • The presence of AK’s is an indicator that sun damage has occurred and that any kind of skin cancer, not just SCC, can develop.
Who is at greatest risk?
  • People who have fair skin, blonde or red hair or blue, green or gray eyes are at the greatest risk. Because their skin has less protective pigment, they are the most susceptible to sunburn. Even those who are darker-skinned can develop keratoses if they expose themselves to the sun without protection.
  • One in six people will develop an AK in their lifetime.
  • Older people are more likely than younger ones to have AK’s, because cumulative sun exposure increases over time.
  • Keratoses appear even in people in their early twenties who have spent too much time in the sun with little or no protection.
Treatment of AK’s
There are several effective treatments for removing actinic keratoses. Not all keratoses need to be removed. The decision on whether and how to treat is based on the nature of the lesion, your age and your health. Remember, actinic keratosis is a warning signal of skin cancer.
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