Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers. It accounts for nearly half of all cancers in the United States. There are two basic types of skin cancer: non-melanomas and melanoma. Basal and squamous cell skin cancers are non-melanomas. Most develop on sun-exposed areas of the skin, like the face, ear, neck, lips, and the backs of the hands. Depending on the type, they can be fast or slow growing, but they rarely spread to other parts of the body. These cancers can be cured if treated early. Melanoma is far more dangerous and begins in the cells that produce the skin coloring (or pigment) called melanin. Melanin helps protect deeper layers of skin from the sun’s harmful effects. Melanoma is often curable when treated in very early stages.
Anyone can get skin cancer, but it is more common in people who:
- Spend a lot of time in the sun or have been sunburned
- Have light-colored skin, hair and eyes
- Have a family member with skin cancer
- Are over age 50
The best ways to lower the risk of skin cancer:
- Avoid long exposure to intense sunlight and practice sun safety
- Avoid direct exposure between 10am and 4pm
- Wear shirts, hats and sunglasses
- Seek shaded areas
- Use sunscreen and lip balm with an SPF of at least 30
- Avoid UV light from tanning beds and sun lamps
Signs & Symptoms
Skin cancer can be found early and both doctors and patients play important roles in finding it. Be on the look-out for these symptoms:
- Any change on your skin, especially in the size or color of a mole, growth, or spot, or a new growth (even if it has no color)
- Scaliness, oozing, bleeding or a change in the way a bump or nodule looks
- The spread of pigmentation (color) beyond its border, such as dark coloring that spreads past the edge of a mole or mark
- A change in sensation, such as itchiness, tenderness, or pain
If you experience any of the above symptoms, contact your doctor.
The ABCDE system is a helpful way to remember the symptoms of melanoma.
Your OHC doctor will help you determine the best care plan for you. Different types of treatment are available for patients with melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer.
- Surgery to remove the tumor is the primary treatment for all stages of melanoma.
- Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing.
- Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing.
- Immunotherapy (biologic therapy) uses the patients own immune system to help fight the cancer.
- Targeted therapy uses drugs or other substances to identify and attack specific cancer cells without harming normal cells.