Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month

Kacey Flores, PA-C
Physician Assistant
Coastal Gateway Health Center

May is melanoma and skin cancer awareness month. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. Fortunately, it is also largely preventable, and if caught early, it is usually curable.

Why is detection and prevention so important?
• 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70.
• More than two (2) people die of skin cancer in the U.S. every hour.
• More people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year in the U.S. than all other cancers combined.
• When detected early, the 5-year survival rate for skin cancers is 95-100%.

There are three (3) common types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and melanoma. The majority of skin cancers are either basal cell or squamous cell carcinomas. Only 4% of all skin cancers are melanoma, the most serious type.

Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) and Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)

BCC is the most common form of skin cancer and the most frequently occurring form of all cancers. It arises from the abnormal, uncontrolled growth of basal cells in the outermost layer of the skin. BCC grows slowly, so most are curable and cause minimal damage when caught and treated early.

SCCs arise from the abnormal, uncontrolled growth of squamous cells in the outermost layer of skin. They are also highly curable when detected and treated early.

Risk factors for these two (2) cancers include:
• Unprotected or excessive UV exposure from the sun or indoor tanning
• History of skin cancer
• Age greater than 50 years
• Having fair skin
• Male gender
• Chronic infections and skin inflammation from burns, scars, and other conditions

Detection of these cancers includes examining your skin monthly for warning signs, including new, changing, or unusual skin growths. These cancers most often develop on skin areas typically exposed to the sun, including the face, ears, neck, scalp, shoulders, and back. BCCs often appear as an open sore that will not heal. They may bleed, ooze, or crust. They can also appear red and irritated, shiny, small and pink, or scar-like. SCCs can appear as thick, rough, scaly patches that may crust or bleed. They can also resemble warts or open sores that do not completely heal.

If ignored, both of these cancers have the ability to metastasize (spread to other parts of the body) and can even lead to death.

Melanoma

Melanoma is a cancer that develops from melanocytes, the skin cells that produce melanin pigment, which gives your skin its color. Melanomas often resemble moles and sometimes may arise from them. They can appear on any area of the body, even in areas that are not typically exposed to the sun. Melanoma is more serious than other skin cancers because it spreads much more rapidly.

Risk factors include:
• Unprotected or excessive UV exposure from the sun or indoor tanning
• History of skin cancer
• Weakened immune system.
• Having many moles or larger moles
• Having fair skin
• Having 5 or more sunburns doubles your risk for melanoma, but just one blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles a person’s chances of developing melanoma later in life.
• Genetics – melanoma can run in families; 1 in every 10 patients had a family member who also had the disease.

Melanomas most often appear on the legs of women and the trunk of men. Most melanomas are asymmetrical, have uneven borders, have multiple colors, are dark in color, or are spots that change (size, shape, color, elevation) with new symptoms (bleeding, itching, crusting).

What can I do?

• Seek shade, when possible, especially from 10:00 am – 4:00 pm daily.
• Use sunscreen (SPF of 15 or higher).
• Wear appropriate clothing (sunglasses, hat, long-sleeved shirts, long pants) when possible.
• Check your skin for moles, freckles, and age spots monthly. If you notice any new or changing spots, contact a healthcare provider.
• See a dermatologist yearly for a thorough skin examination.
• Avoid tanning beds.
• Know your family history of skin cancer.

In summary, knowledge and early detection are your best defense. If you have any areas of concern with your skin, it is always best to seek advice from a health care professional.

Coastal Gateway Health Center can be reached by phone at 409.296.4444 or by email at info@coastalgatewayhc.org. For more information regarding our services and programs, please visit our website at www.coastalgatewayhc.org or find and follow us on Facebook. We are proud to be #yourcommunityhealthcenter.

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