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Skin cancer is a term used to describe the uncontrollable growth of abnormal skin cells. 1 in 5 Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime.
There are three main types of skin cancer:
Skin cancer is believed to be caused largely by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. UV radiation causes damage to cell DNA that can lead to cell mutations and the interruption of the cell’s ability to regulate cell division. The exact process of DNA damage and cell mutations are the focus of ongoing research. Individuals who have received prolonged doses of UV radiation, whether from unprotected sun exposure, tanning bed use, or other sources, are at an elevated risk for developing skin cancer.
There are several factors that can affect the risk of developing skin cancer. These include:
Before your doctor arrives at a skin cancer diagnosis, he or she will most likely:
The following may be warning signs of skin cancer:
The prognosis for skin cancer largely depends on the type of cancer and when it is detected. With recent advancements in treatment technologies, early detection of melanomas, BCCs, or SCCs have high chances of successful treatment. Melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer, though if caught before it spreads to the lymph nodes, the five-year survival rate can be as high as 98%. For distant stage (advanced) cases of melanoma, the five-year survival rate can be as low as 16%. Both BCC and SCC are highly curable with early detection and treatment.
Receiving a skin cancer diagnosis can be a difficult and challenging experience. The following tips can help you live more comfortably with skin cancer:
Because 1 in 5 Americans will get skin cancer at some point in their lives, and because the rate of survival is so much higher when detected early, regular screening for skin cancer is recommended. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends scheduling an annual appointment with your dermatologist to receive a full body skin exam. During a full body skin exam, your doctor will check all of your surfaces (including toenails and fingernails) for signs of cancerous growths. Self-monitoring is also recommended. Pay close attention to new moles or growths that arise on the skin and report them to your doctor if you notice any abnormalities including irregular borders and rapid growth.
Since the majority of skin cancers are caused by UV radiation exposure, the best thing that you can do to prevent skin cancer is to protect yourself from the sun. The following are tips on how to properly protect your skin from sun damage:
In addition to protecting your skin from the sun, you should monitor your skin for any suspicious moles or growths. Early detection of possibly carcinogenic growths is the most effective means of preventing skin cancer from advancing.
The following treatments are available for patients with skin cancer:
Surgery. Surgical removal of the tumor is often the most effective way of treating early-detected skin cancers. Types of surgery include:
Radiation therapy. Radiation therapy can be given internally and externally, and involves the use of high-power x-rays or radioactive substances. Radiation treatments vary greatly from case to case depending on the extent of the cancer and can be effective in treating skin cancers that aren’t easily excisable.
Chemotherapy. In chemotherapy, high strength drugs target and kill or interrupt the growth process of cancerous cells. Unless the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, chemotherapy for skin cancer patients is most often given topically in the form of a cream or lotion.
Photodynamic therapy (PDT). Photodynamic therapy involves the administration of a drug that collects more in cancer cells than in regular cells, and the subsequent treatment of those cells with a special type of laser light. When the laser light is shined on the cells that have collected the drug, the drug is activated and the cells are killed. This method of treatment causes minimal damage to non-cancerous tissue.
Biologic therapy or Immunotherapy. These treatments involve the use of drugs to stimulate a patient’s immune system to help it better fight against cancerous cells. Biologic therapies may include interferon injection or a topical imiquimod cream.
Though there are many theories on possible alternative treatments for skin cancers, there is little evidence that proves their effectiveness.
Some potentially cancer-fighting alternative therapies include:
Speak with your doctor before pursuing any alternative or complementary skin cancer treatment therapies.
The most important things you can do for your body while fighting skin cancer are staying in overall good health and protecting your skin from further damage. Tips for living well and protecting yourself from the sun include:
Schedule an appointment with your dermatologist if you notice any spots, growths, lesions, or moles on your skin that appear to be abnormal or have rapidly appeared/recently grown.
If you are undergoing treatment for skin cancer, contact your doctor if you:
Notice any extensive blood or pus at the treatment site
In addition to your primary care physician, you may need a dermatologist on your skin cancer care team.
To find a registered dermatologist, visit The American Academy of Dermatologists.
To find a physician registered with the Skin Cancer Foundation, click here.
You may want to ask your doctor the following questions about your condition:
For more information on skin cancer, visit:
For more information on skin cancer treatment options, visit:
For statistical information on specific skin cancer types, visit:
For more information on skin cancer prevention, visit:
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