Skins Cancer Facts – What You Need to Know
There will be roughly 3 million skin cancers diagnosed in the United States this year, approximately 8500 per day.
Types of skins cancers
There are different types of skin cancer and some are easily treated when caught early.
- The vast majority are basal cell carcinomas (BCC), slow growing, non-aggressive tumors – they are generally red, soft, and bleed easily. They can be treated, depending on their subtype, with topical creams, dessication and curettage, excision, mohs surgery, and radiation therapy.
- The next most common cancer is squamous cell carcinoma, about 25% as common as BCC. These are more aggressive as 1 in 100 can be fatal. They are typically treated with excision or radiation.
- Melanoma is least common of the three, about 75000-80000 per year; of those anywhere between 7000-9000 people will die from the cancer. It is important that melanoma is excised early as early excision garners a much higher cure rate, even in this era of advanced chemo for melanoma. At this point, if you need the chemo, you waited too long.
Screenings play a vital role
Skin cancer is highly treatable when detected early. Screenings play an important role in prevention. Screening in the average patient with mild sun damage is best by the primary care doctor (which they do at the physical) or by the patient themselves. We recommend a monthly self-exam. For those with significant sun damage or tanning booth exposure, an annual screening may be adequate.
If you have had a skin cancer, it depends on the type and number – screening can be as frequent as 2-3 months. It is important that ophthalmologic, dental, and gyn exams are up to date as cancers of the skin can occur in those areas.
What does a screening entail
Skin screening is a simple visual exam often times with a hand held microscope or dermascope to aid in the evaluation of the lesion. Any new, changing, itching, or bleeding mole should be evaluated.
If you can spot it, you can stop it
Regular self-exams are important to detect early signs of skin cancer. The Skin Cancer Foundation providers some warning signs to look for:
- A skin growth that increases in size and appears pearly, translucent, tan, brown, black, or multicolored
- A mole, birthmark, beauty mark, or any brown spot that:
– changes color
– increases in size or thickness
– changes in texture
– is irregular in outline
– is bigger than 6mm or 1/4″, the size of a pencil eraser
– appears after age 21
- A spot or sore that continues to itch, hurt, crust, scab, erode, or bleed
- An open sore that does not heal within three weeks
If you notice any possible issues, don’t overlook it. Don’t delay. If you see any change in an existing mole, freckle, or spot or if you find a new one with any of the warning signs of skin cancer, see a physician, preferably a dermatologist who specializes in diseases of the skin.
How to stay sun safe
About 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. While not all skin cancers are caused by the sun, sun is the single most preventable risk factor. Sunscreen, hats, sunglasses should be worn regularly. Don’t forget that there is exposure in the winter as ultraviolet light is reflected off snow, and there is increasing exposure with higher altitudes.
Sunscreen is an important means of protection from the harmful rays of the sun. Unfortunately, many people don’t use sunscreen correctly!
Here are some helpful hints:
- The most common mistake with sunscreen is insufficient application. One ounce of sunscreen is needed for each average application and it should be reapplied every 2 hours.
- SPF 30 is the optimum level as a general rule – this will block 97% of UV light.
- Waterproof sunscreens need frequent reapplication. Look for waterproof sunscreens with a waterproof rating – typically 40-80 minutes until it needs to be reapplied.
- Combination insect repellant/sunscreen products are not recommended. Sunscreen should be applied generously and often, repellent sparingly and infrequently.
- Don’t breathe in a sunscreen spray while it is being applied to avoid aerosol ingestion.
- Children less than 6 months of age should be protected by avoidance or clothing. After 6 months sunscreens with titanium dioxide or zinc oxide are recommended.
The dedicated and caring Dermatology Department at Starling Physicians is here to help. Call us today at (860) 348-4242 to schedule a visit in our New Britain or Rocky Hill location.