While the sun provides us with life-sustaining warmth and nourishment and helps stave off depression, overexposure to ultraviolet A and B rays is a leading cause of skin cancer, a disease that affects one in five Americans. Luckily, skin cancer is highly curable, as long as it is diagnosed and treated early. Learning how to identify the signs of skin cancer on our own bodies is one of the best ways to fight the disease.

Types of skin cancer

Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC):

BCC is the most common form of skin cancer, affecting over one million Americans each year. BCC results when the basal cells found in the epidermis produce aberrant growths. These are caused by overexposure to the sun and may appear as bumps, sores, scars or raised mounds. They are usually easy to treat when diagnosed early.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC):

When the squamous cells that compose the outermost skin layers are exposed to damaging UV rays from the sun or indoor tanning beds, squamous cell carcinoma can result. Growths usually manifest as red sores, raised crusty nodules, or wart-like bumps. Lesser known risk factors may include fair skin that is prone to sunburns, a family history of skin cancer, a compromised immune system and genetic predisposition.

Melanoma:

Melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer. It is responsible for the highest numbers of fatalities from the disease due to how quickly it can spread through the body. Melanoma begins in the melanocyte cells, which are responsible for pigmenting the skin with melanin. Although the main risk factor for melanoma is exposure to harmful UV rays from the sun or tanning beds, genetics and other factors may play a role in a patient’s susceptibility.

Some important risk factors for skin cancer include…

  • Fair skin that burns easily
  • Light-colored eyes and hair
  • Excessive amount of moles or unusually large moles
  • Family history of skin cancer
  • Outdoor lifestyle or job
  • Residing closer to the equator
  • Recipient of radiation treatments

Below are some simple suggestions that will help you take care of your skin and minimize your risks:

  1. Avoid prolonged exposure to the sun, especially between the hours of 10am and 2pm.
  2. Protect your body with sunglasses, hats, and long sleeves.
  3. Wear sunscreen, even when the sun is obscured by clouds or fog. Sunscreen should have an SPF of at least 30 and should protect you from both UVA and UVB rays.
  4. Avoid indoor tanning beds. These can be just as dangerous as the direct rays of the sun.
  5. Use self-examination to stay on top of changes in moles, bumps or other skin abnormalities. Look for asymmetry, jagged borders, discoloration, and raised growths that appear to be evolving. See a dermatologist immediately if you suspect anything out of the ordinary.
  6. Undergo regular screening for skin cancer with a qualified medical authority. Prevention is the best offense.

If you do contract skin cancer, there are a wide range of treatments available to you. Your doctor will assist you in selecting the best approach for your needs. Treatment techniques include:

  • Mohs chemosurgery and reconstruction
  • Cryosurgery
  • Laser surgery
  • Topical chemotherapy
  • Photodynamic therapy
  • Light therapy

When choosing your skin cancer physician, don’t be afraid to ask questions. It is imperative that you receive the full picture in terms of what each treatment can accomplish, as well as the cosmetic consequences.

Some important questions to ask your doctor are:

  • Which treatments can most benefit my condition?
  • Which are the least invasive?
  • What are the benefits and drawbacks of each?
  • Are there any risks or side effects I should know about?
  • How will each of these treatments affect my appearance?
  • How else will my life be impacted?

To learn more about the PPSD approach to skin cancer, please enjoy the following video: