Skin cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer, and in most cases, the most preventable and easiest to treat. Skin cancer makes up 40% of the annual diagnoses of cancer, and has been estimated to occur in 2-3 million people annually; however, accurate records are not kept globally, therefore it is tough to pinpoint an exact number. It is also estimated that 80% of those diagnosed with skin cancer will have a non-melanoma cancer. The recent increase in skin cancer cases has been linked to exposure to ultraviolet light and of course the thinning of the ozone layer over the years.
Skin cancer can have various causes, but it is most often linked to ultraviolet radiation from any source either naturally occurring or artificially created in such instances as in a tanning bed. Interestingly enough there is a higher instance of skin cancer in those of fairer skin, meaning that caucasians tend to have a higher rate of skin cancer than those of darker complexions. So much so, that it is estimated that 30% of caucasians will be diagnosed with some form of skin cancer in their lifetime. Another risk factor is having a history of severe sunburns, as an adolescent or young adult. Those at risk are people who have had “blistering” sunburn. Finally, those people who have moles or other skin lesions have a higher chance of being diagnosed with a form of skin cancer.
There are three types of skin cancer, basal-cell carcinoma, squamous-cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Basal cell cancer (BCC) is the most common form of skin cancer and is normally presented as a raised shiny or pearly bump. This type of cancer affects the basal cells under the skin, and is easily treatable with a simple surgery to remove the tumor. In most cases, the surgery can be performed as an outpatient procedure. The risk factors for the cancer spreading or metastasizing are very low. Once the tumor has been removed no further treatment is normally required.
Squamous-cell carcinoma(SCC) is the second most common form of skin cancer and commonly presents as a red dry patch of skin, or a dome shaped , it may also appear very quickly since it occurs in the epidermis region of the skin. Typically it occurs in older individuals, and has a higher instance in men than women. To no surprise, SCC has the same risk factors as BCC. Again having a higher rate of occurring in those with prolonged UV exposure and again with those of fairer skin tones. Also with SCC, it occurs on the head and neck, however it can also occur on the upper extremities as well as the lips. SCC is normally treated with surgery to remove the tumor. If the cancerous tumor is detected early, it can be removed and no further treatment is required. However, if no treated in a timely fashion, the tumor could metastasize and spread to other areas of the body. Early detection is crucial to a successful outcome.
Melanoma or malignant melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer and typically occurs in more in males than females. Again as with the previous types of cancers discussed, it has the same risk factors such as having a higher rate of occurring in those with prolonged UV exposure and again with those of fairer skin tones. The key difference being in the way it develops, melanoma normally develops from a mole already present on the body. Unlike the previous cancers discussed, melanoma can develop anywhere on the body and is not normally limited to the upper body. In fact, most cases in women occur in the legs. As with all types of skin cancer, early detection is key for a successful outcome. When assessing a suspicious spot, one should look at the following: asymmetry, borders, color, diameter being greater than 6mm, and evolution. Like the other forms of cancer, melanoma can be treated with surgery, and if detected early, the entire tumor can be removed. However the danger from melanoma comes from the fact that this type of cancer is almost always a malignant form of cancer, meaning that it can spread very rapidly throughout the body. If this is the case in most cases chemo or immunotherapy is required to stop the spread and kill the existing cells. This can be a long hard road for those who have let the cancer go for too long. The good news is that the five year survival rate is over 98% after treatment.
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