Skin Cancer is the most common form of cancer.
Over the past several decades, it has risen dramatically in the
United States. Much of this increase can be attributed to sun exposure.
Therefore, skin cancer tends to occur in sun-exposed areas such
as the face and the back of the hands. Individuals of a lighter
skin tone are at a greater risk for skin cancer, because they do
not have as much pigment in their skin, which protects against the
sun. Because we currently believe that both cumulative damage over
decades and sunburns can eventually lead to skin cancer, it is important
to protect your children from the sun. This does not mean preventing
them from going outdoors; it is healthy for children to be outdoors
However, it does mean applying sunscreen or sun block, or having
them wear protective clothing. If your children are out in the sun
all day, it is necessary to reapply the sunscreen or sunblock. This
is also important for adults. It is never too late to begin to practice
sun protection. By protecting yourself from the sun, you will not
only lower your risk for skin cancer, but will also keep your skinwhich
is the bodys largest organhealthier and reduce the amount
Because skin cancer is curable, it is important to catch it early.
This is particularly true for melanoma which is the most aggressive
of the common skin cancers (basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell
carcinoma being the other two). You should examine your skin on
a monthly basis. In areas such as the back which is difficult to
examine, have someone else look carefully. Any nonhealing sore,
or a spot that bleeds, or continually scabs up, or is getting larger,
or changing colors should be looked at by a dermatologist.
It is important to have a yearly check-up by your dermatologist
who is trained to look for skin cancers. Many people have actinic
keratoses, which are scaly red spots that feel like sandpaper to
the touch. These can eventually turn into skin cancer. Your dermatologist
may freeze these spots with a cold spray. The area will turn red,
and possibly create a water blister. After it has healed, the red
scaly spot, in most cases, will have disappeared. Should you have
a nonhealing spot, your dermatologist may elect to take a skin sample.
This usually takes a few minutes, and after numbing the area, the
skin is shaved off, or a piece is taken with a cookie cutter device
known as a "punch." In this later case, you may require
a stitch. The piece of skin is then processed and read under the
microscope. Skin cancers have distinct patterns under the microscope.
To diagnose a skin cancer in this manner may take several days.
Should you have a skin cancer, it can be treated by a number of
methods. Depending on size, location and type of skin cancer, it
can be frozen, burned and scraped off, cut out, or in rare cases
irradiated. The method that has the highest cure rate is a technique
called Mohs Micrographic
Surgery. Currently, for a select few skin cancers, there are
topical creams that have been shown to be effective.