Much has been said lately concerning global warming, holes in the ozone layer, and increased risk from harmful UV rays. But what is the result of all this, and how does it affect us? The most widespread result of long term and cumulative exposure to the sun’s rays is skin cancer. The good news is that skin cancer, unlike other forms of cancer, such as lung cancer or breast cancer, is usually highly visible and easily detectable in the early stages. It is also rare for people to die as a result of skin cancer.
Skin cancers most commonly are one of three types; Basal cell carcinoma, Squamous cell carcinoma, and Melanoma. These are named after the skin cell types that are affected by them. While genetics can play a large part in a person’s susceptibility to skin cancer, the most common cause of all skin cancers is spending too much time in the sun unprotected from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Unfortunately, many young people believe that a tan looks good and that getting sunburned is no big deal. But skin cancer has a twenty to thirty year latency period, so the sunburn of today may come back decades later as skin cancer.
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer. They are most common on the face, and they rarely spread or cause death. They are easily treated in out-patient surgery or mild radiation. The Squamous cell carcinoma is much less common and does occasionally metastasize. Even when they do, it is usually a prolonged process and is still easily treated. The least common of these is the Melanoma. They can and do spread, and are deadly if untreated.
A quick check of your skin after a shower is the best way to catch skin cancer early. Any sore that does not heal quickly, red or scaly patches or odd-looking moles should be checked out by a dermatologist. If you have a family history of skin cancer, you should get regular checkups anyway. The dermatologist will take a small sample of the area and have a biopsy done. A diagnosis is usually made in about a week.
Once diagnosed, your dermatologist can decide on the best type of treatment. Many times, the growth is simply frozen off with cryotherapy. These procedures are typically done in the doctor’s office, leave a minimum of damage and scarring, and require no time off from work. If the cancer is deeper, a procedure known as Mohs’ surgery may be employed. In this procedure, a small amount of skin is surgically removed, and then the area is immediately biopsied for further cancer. The process is repeated until all traces of the cancer are gone.
The lesson in all this is to begin at a young age to protect yourself from the sun. If you spend any time outdoors, even on a cloudy day, protect your skin with a good sunscreen, wear a hat to protect your scalp, and get a regular checkup with your dermatologist.