Cumulative exposure to ultraviolet light (UV) from either the sun or a tanning bed is the most important environmental factor involved in the development of skin cancer. Also if you are light-skinned and have a tendency to burn rather than tan or have a personal or family history of skin cancer, you are at an increased risk of skin cancer.
Types of Skin Cancer
At Suzanne Bruce and Associates, we believe education is essential for the patients who visit us in Houston. Skin cancer can develop in 3 forms, and learning what to look for can save your life.
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Getting the Full Picture
Find out why you need an annual full body skin exam. Read the Article
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Basal cell cancer usually appears as a small, fleshy bump (tumor) on the head, neck and hands. They seldom occur in dark-skinned people, but they are the most common skin cancers found in Caucasians. These tumors do not grow quickly. It may take many months or years for one to reach one-half inch in diameter. Untreated, the cancer lesions will begin to bleed, crust over, and then repeat the cycle.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous cell cancers appear as nodules or as red, scaly patches. They typically are on the rims of the ears, the face or lips. Unlike basal cell cancer, squamous cell cancers can spread internally and grow quickly. A squamous cell cancer can reach one inch in diameter in a few weeks or months.
Malignant melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer but is almost always curable in its early stages. Melanoma begins in skin cells that produce dark protective pigment, which is why this cancer appears in shades of tan, brown, and black. It can spread quickly, so early diagnosis and treatment are essential. Melanoma may suddenly appear without warning or begin in or near a mole. Changes in moles may signal melanoma, so it is important that you know what your moles look like. Dark skin is not a guarantee against melanoma.
Watch carefully for other warning signs of melanoma:
- Changes in the color or size of a mole
- Scaliness, oozing, or bleeding
- The appearance of a bump
- Spreading of pigment from the border into surrounding skin
- Change in sensation, including itchiness, tenderness, or pain
Detecting/Diagnosing Skin Cancer
It is important to examine your skin every month to detect skin cancer at an early stage. Get to know the pattern of moles, blemishes, freckles, and other marks on your skin so you can detect any changes. One way to do this self-exam is to stand in front of a full-length mirror. A hand-held mirror can be used for areas that are hard to see.
All areas should be examined, including the lower back, buttocks, back of the shoulders and backs of the thighs. Spots on the skin that are changing in size, shape or color must be evaluated promptly. Any unusual sore, lump, blemish, marking or change in the way an area of the skin looks or feels may be a sign of skin cancer. The skin might become scaly, crusty, oozing or bleeding. Most skin lesions are not skin cancers, but only your dermatologist is trained to make that determination.
The doctor screens for skin cancer the same way you would, by examining the entire skin surface. He or she will pay special attention to the sun-exposed surfaces at highest risk and those areas, such as the back, that patients have trouble examining themselves. If you are fair-skinned and have a history of sun exposure, you should schedule a medical dermatology examination annually. If you have had a previous skin cancer or pre-cancerous lesions, we may want to see you even more often.
Preventing Skin Cancer
Remember that skin cancer is preventable. Stay out of the sun and out of tanning salons to avoid skin damage. If you must be in the sun, exercise "sun sense." Avoid sun exposure when UV exposure is the greatest (usually 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.) and always use a sunscreen. It is important to wear a sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays. Look for a sunscreen that contains at least one of the following active ingredients: zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, Parsol 1789 (avobenzone), Helioplex TM, or Mexoryl SX. You should wear a minimum of SPF 30 every day and wear a higher SPF for more prolonged exposures to the sun. In such instances, you should also reapply sunscreen periodically, especially after swimming. In addition, we recommend keeping exposed areas of your body covered with comfortable sun-protective clothing and protecting your face and neck with broad-brimmed hats.
Here at Suzanne Bruce and Associates, we look forward to seeing you for your annual skin exam, answering your questions on the signs and symptoms of skin cancer and, if treatment is warranted, discussing your various treatment options and providing the appropriate treatment or referral for you.