What is skin cancer?
Skin, our body’s largest and most complex organ, is a thin outer covering made up of two main layers and several kinds of cells. The top layer of skin is called the epidermis. It contains three kinds of cells: flat scaly cells on the surface called squamous cells; round cells called basal cells; and cells called melanocytes which give skin its color.
There are several types of cancer that start in the skin.
· Basal cell carcinoma is usually a slow-growing raised area that may crust and bleed, occurring mostly on the face, neck and hands.
· Squamous cell carcinoma is a red or pink, scaly bump, typically appearing on the face, hands and ears.
· Malignant melanoma , is the most serious type, and it usually begins as a light brown or flat, black spot with irregular borders that later can become red, blue or white. It often grows from a mole.
An estimated 1 million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year in the United States; 80 percent are basal cell carcinoma, 16 percent are squamous cell carcinoma and 4 percent are melanoma.
What you need to do
Dermatologists stress the importance of skin self -examination as a method for early detection for possible malignancies. In a survey conducted by Johns Hopkins School of Medicine of people diagnosed with melanoma, patients detected 55 percent of the tumors. (The spouses of patients detected 12 percent of the tumors).
The key to survival
The Johns Hopkins study found that those tumors found by physicians tended to be thinner, earlier-stage melanomas. These usually have a better prognosis, because the thinner a tumor is when detected, the greater the probability that it is curable.
The study found in addition, that even when patients discovered lesions, they postponed having them taken care of. Doctors who found suspicious lesions usually had a biopsy performed within a month. When patients discovered a lesion, the median time before biopsy was three months. Some lived with tumors for years.
The key to survival of melanoma is early detection and treatment. You should examine your skin head-to-toe at least once every three months, and you should seek from your family physician or your dermatologist a total-body skin examination at least once a year.
The Skin Cancer Foundation offers a free brochure on skin self-examination. You can get one by sending a stamped, self-addressed, business-size envelope to The Skin Cancer Foundation, Box 561, Dept. SE 162, New York, NY 10156