Skin cancer is America’s most common cancer and it’s estimated that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. The American Cancer Society estimates that nearly 8,000 people will die of melanoma in the U.S. this year. That’s why early detection and treatment of any type of skin cancer is so important.
Types of skin cancer
There are four types of skin cancer: basal cell, squamous cell, Merkel cell, and melanoma. Most skin cancers are basal or squamous cell cancers, with melanoma and Merkel cell cancers being rarer.
Skin cancer treatment
Basal and squamous cell cancers are typically non-aggressive and slow growing. When identified early, they’re usually treatable and curable.
These types of cancer can usually be treated with either prescription ointments or a surgical procedure known as an excision, most often performed on an outpatient basis in the doctor’s office. Excisions use a local anesthetic, meaning that pain is minimal. In some cases, your doctor may recommend radiation treatments.
Once removed, a pathologist will analyze the lesion and determine if all cancerous tissue was removed. If the “margins,” or surrounding tissue, come back negative, no further treatment is required. However, it’s worthwhile to seek regular skin exams afterward.
Melanoma can be fatal
Melanoma, an aggressive skin cancer, belongs in a category of its own because of its ability to spread and be potentially fatal. As a result, surgery is often indicated for early-stage disease with radiation or medicines, such as immunotherapy or chemotherapy, being used in more advanced stages.
In most melanoma cases, a full-thickness biopsy of the skin lesion is taken to see how deep the lesion is. If a large amount of tissue needs to be removed, or if it’s an area that is highly visible, the surgeon will often work with a cosmetic surgeon to minimize the appearance of scarring.
Early detection is key
The key to successful treatment of skin cancer is early detection. It’s important to regularly monitor your skin for marks that should be examined by a physician. Remember the letters A-B-C-D-E when performing a skin exam. Lesions that are asymmetrical, have irregular borders, multiple colors, a diameter greater than six millimeters, or evolve over time (i.e., change in size or appearance) should be noted. If you spot something suspicious, make an appointment with your doctor. The sooner skin cancer is diagnosed, the better your chances for a positive outcome.
Who is at risk for skin cancer?
Certain people may have a higher risk of developing skin cancer in their lives. Those who are fair skinned, have blonde or red hair, or have light eyes face a higher risk for skin cancer. People with more melanin have a decreased risk of developing skin cancer but are still at risk of developing it on lighter parts of the skin, such as the palms, soles, underneath fingernails or inside the mouth.
If you have a history of skin cancer, you should be checked on a regular basis at least once a year.
How to prevent skin cancer
It’s a good idea to use sunscreen daily, not just in summer or when it’s sunny, because ultraviolet (UV) rays still pass through clouds. Most skin cancers are related to the UV rays in sunlight. Use a high-SPF sunscreen beginning at a young age and continue the routine throughout your lifetime.
Protective clothing with sun protection factor (SPF) can also help, especially when used in combination with sunscreen on the skin. Practicing skin safety is important for overall health as well, not just for reducing the risk of skin cancer. If you are concerned about skin cancer, talk with your primary care provider and schedule a skin exam.
Bradford Gray, MD, FACS, is a board-certified general surgeon at Newport Hospital. He is an expert in the management of malignant skin conditions, including melanoma.
Randall Ingham, II, MD, is a hematologist/oncologist with the Lifespan Cancer Institute at the Newport Hospital and is board certified in hematology oncology and internal medicine. He is an expert in cancer treatment and prevention.
Health Matters appears monthly in The Newport Daily News and online at newportri.com.
This article originally appeared on Newport Daily News: What to know about skin cancer from treatment to prevention