Skin Cancer Update
Since we are in summer, I would like to give an update on skin cancer. As far as prevention, the FDA in June of 2011 released new guidelines where sunscreen has to be broad spectrum. This means it must be effective against UVA as well as UVB since both contribute to skin cancer. The sunscreen has to be water resistant for at least 40 80 minutes to prevent sunburn in individuals immersed in water. The SPF considered effective is 30 to 50 for maximum effect, and needs to be applied every three hours.
The most common types of skin cancer are basal cell, squamous and melanoma. Daily application of sunscreen decreases incidence of melanoma by 50%. And, sunscreen decreases the incidence of basal cell and squamous cell cancer by 30%. This is very important because the rate of skin cancer has been increasing over the last decade.
Basal cell cancer starts from the basal cells of the skin. This type of skin cancer represents a “local” problem not causing metastases but can become a big surgical problem if left untreated. Most commonly it presents as a skin lesion with rounded elevated edges in the sun exposed areas of the skin.
Squamous cell cancer starts in the squamous cells of the skin and can erode the skin and underlying structures and can metastasize if left untreated. The appearance is of a scaly firm lesion that does not heal and bleeds.
Melanoma is the most serious of the skin cancers starting in the melanocytes. Melanoma can be found in sun-exposed areas of the skin or in non-exposed areas like the perianal region as opposed to the non-melanoma skin cancers. Melanoma can be very aggressive and spread to distant sites like lungs, liver, bowel, bones and brain.
It is true that pale skin, and blond or red hair are associated with higher risk of getting melanoma, but keep in mind that even African Americans can develop melanomas.
Be suspicious of asymmetry in moles, irregular blurred edges, and presence of different shades of brown and black in the sore mole, size greater than six millimeters, growing skin lesions, changes in color, changing surface texture or signs of bleeding.
Any suspicious skin lesions or lesions changing in appearance should be evaluated by a dermatologist. A proper skin exam should start from the scalp all the way down to the perianal region, to palms and soles, and in between toes and fingers.
All skin cancer can be “cured” if diagnosed early, therefore if you have any concerns regarding your skin see your doctor who can refer you to a dermatologist.
Part two will be about treatment options for skin cancer.