Skin cancer is the world’s most common cancer, with 1 in 5 people being diagnosed with skin cancer by the age 70. Despite its widespread danger, skin cancer can be defeated by a powerful weapon: early detection. 99% of cases are curable if caught and treated early enough. Find out how early detection saves lives and how you can use skin cancer screenings to ensure that you are cancer free.
Skin cancer is the abnormal growth of skin cells, starting in the skin’s top layer: the epidermis. Mutations to the skin cells occur and cause the cells to grow abnormally fast, creating a cancerous growth. Skin cancer typically occurs in areas that have been exposed to UV light (although skin cancer can also grow in areas not exposed to sunlight). UV light is present in sunlight and tanning beds. The areas most likely to develop skin cancer are the face, ears, scalp, neck, chest, shoulders, arms, hands and legs. There are 3 major types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and melanoma. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer and squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common. Melanoma is less common, but is by far the most deadly, largely because it tends to spread to other parts of the body. Both BCC and SCC tend to occur in sun-exposed areas of the body, while melanoma is more likely to develop in areas that aren’t sun-exposed.
Because skin cancer starts to form on the skin’s top layer, it can be detected when it first starts to form. It is even possible to find and treat pre-cancerous spots before they become malignant. And when a pre-cancerous or malignant spot is treated early, it is stopped from spreading to other parts of the body, where the cancer can become disfiguring or deadly. This is why early detection is so important -- it drastically increases the likelihood of successful skin cancer treatment. Quickly detected precancerous and cancerous spots can be easily removed using highly effective methods, like Mohs micrographic surgery. Most excisions can be done with a relatively quick out-patient procedure in your dermatologist’s office. Early detection should be implemented on two fronts: your home and your dermatologist's office. Once a month, you should perform a self-check at home. Standing in front of a mirror with a hand mirror, examine your skin for any signs of skin cancer. You might want to have someone help you look in places that are hard to see, like on the top of your scalp (especially if you are bald on the top of your head). Keep a list of growths on your body so that the next time you do a self-exam, you can note any changes. Keep an eye out for changes in moles, bumps that change in color or size or texture, areas of skin that continually itch or cause pain or bleed, or open sores that don’t heal. You can visit the American Academy of Dermatology’s website or the Mayo Clinic for more signs of skin cancer to be aware of. You should also schedule an annual skin cancer screening with your dermatologist. This will be a relatively quick appointment (usually about 20 minutes), but it is key in making sure that any precancerous or skin cancer growths are detected and treated.
Anyone can get skin cancer. But there are some groups of people who are at higher risk. While people of all skin tones get skin cancer, those who are fair skinned with light hair and light eyes are more likely to develop skin cancer. The more sun exposure you’ve had or time you’ve spent in tanning beds, the greater your risk of having skin cancer. You are also in a higher risk group if you’ve had bad sunburns (e.g. sunburns that blister). A family history of skin cancer and being over the age of 50 put you in greater danger of developing skin cancer. If you are not in these high risk groups, don’t get complacent. You should still be vigilant about monthly self checks and annual screenings with your dermatologist. And no matter who you are, be diligent to take preventative measures to keep your skin and body safe.
Contact Vanguard Dermatology in the greater New York City area. The experienced, board-certified dermatologists at Vanguard can expertly perform your skin cancer screening, as well as perform certain surgical removals and create a skin cancer prevention plan for you.