An education in preventing and recognizing the most common form of cancer
Despite prolific media coverage of the dangers posed by exposure to ultraviolet rays, skin cancer rates have steadily risen over the past three decades, making it the most common of all cancer types.
William J. Roth, MD, PhD, a board-certified dermatologist at Watson Clinic, says the best ways to avoid skin cancer include “wearing sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 30 or higher on a regular basis; avoiding sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and wearing long-sleeved shirts, pants and a hat.” However, studies suggest that sunscreens sometimes fail.
As a consequence, approximately 8,700 Americans are expected to die of melanoma this year, and about 2,000 people will die from nonmelanoma skin cancers, according to the ACS. A key component of avoiding these dire outcomes is early diagnoses, followed by treatment before the cancer can spread. Here are a few facts about diagnosing and treating the three forms of skin cancer.
The most important warning signs include new spots that are changing in size, shape or color and that look different from the rest of the spots on skin. The ACS also advises using the “ABCD rule.”
- Asymmetry: Half of a spot doesn’t match the other.
- Border: The edges are irregular, ragged, notched or blurred.
- Color: The color isn’t the same all over.
- Diameter: The spot is larger than about a quarter-inch, or the size of a pencil eraser.
“Melanoma, which is the most deadly type of skin cancer, usually is seen as an abnormal mole that is changing on the body,” Roth says. “Any brown, flat marks and/or raised moles that violate the ABCDs of melanoma are suspicious.”
Other melanoma symptoms may include a sore that doesn’t heal; a change in sensation, such as itchiness, tenderness or pain; and a change in a mole’s surface, such as a scale-like appearance, oozing or bleeding or the appearance of a bump or nodule.
“Treatment for melanoma is surgery,” Roth says. “The area needs to be removed completely. In advanced cases, lymph nodes may need to be removed as well. Various experimental treatments are being investigated for advanced melanoma.”
Regarding Polk County in particular, Roth says the incidence of melanoma has been shown to be significantly higher than the overall rate for Florida, although the mortality rate is somewhat lower than the overall state average.
“Perhaps this indicates that Polk County has better melanoma surveillance and treatment than other counties in Florida,” he says.
Basal and squamous cell cancers
According to the ACS, these cancers are most often found in areas that get a lot of sun, such as the head, neck and arms, but they can occur anywhere. Keep an eye out for new growths, spots, bumps, patches or sores that don’t heal after two to three months.
“Regarding nonmelanoma skin cancer such as a basal cell carcinoma and
squamous cell carcinoma, which are more common skin cancers — these are usually seen as new, changing, red to flesh-colored bumps that can bleed occasionally and/or appear to grow rapidly,” Roth says. “Any changing, bleeding, growing nodules or lesions on one’s skin, regardless of color, should be evaluated by a dermatologist.”
These carcinomas also are treated surgically, although a few subtypes can be treated medically with chemotherapy cream, Roth clarifies.
Also known as solar keratosis, this is the most common form of precancerous skin lesion. Evidence of sun or tanning booth damage, they are typically smaller than a quarter-inch, crusty or scaly, and pink-red or flesh-colored. Dry and rough to the touch, occasionally they can itch, burn or bleed. Because it can grow into squamous cell cancer, it should be checked out by a doctor.
Fortunately, although skin cancer may be the most common form of cancer, it is also one of the most preventable. For more tips, go online to SkinCancer.org.
story by ANNA SACHSE