May is Skin Cancer Prevention and Awareness Month

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer diagnosed.  Globally, skin cancer comprises about 40% of all cancers.

The most common forms of skin cancer are basal-cell cancer, squamous-cell cancer and melanoma.  Basal-cell cancer, the most common, rarely metastasizes (spreads to other parts of the body), but it will continue to grow until it is treated, damaging surrounding structures.

Squamous-cell cancer is the second most common form of skin cancer.  This type of cancer has the ability to metastasize so it is very important to catch this type of cancer in its early stages.

Melanoma is less common than basal-cell and squamous-cell skin cancer, but melanoma can be difficult to treat if it is not caught early as it can readily metastasize.  Melanomas commonly begin as moles that start to bleed or change in size, shape or color.

Signs and symptoms of skin cancer may include a new skin lesion or a skin lesion or mole that is changing or growing.  A bleeding skin lesion that fails to heal may also be a sign of skin cancer.

Diagnosis of skin cancer usually involves taking a biopsy or a sample for analysis in the laboratory.  Often, basal-cell and squamous-cell skin cancers can be treated by a primary-care physician without the need for referral to a dermatologist, surgeon or oncologist.

Skin cancer treatment depends on the type of skin cancer and how far it has progressed.  Treatment may involve cryotherapy (freezing), surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or topical skin creams.

Fortunately, skin cancer is very preventable.  The primary cause of skin cancer is exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun.  This explains why skin cancer usually shows up on sun-exposed parts of the body.

To prevent skin cancer, avoidance of ultraviolet radiation from the sun, especially in the middle of the day, is recommended.  Protection from sunlight in childhood is especially important.

Protective clothing such as hats, gloves and long-sleeve shirts may help to avoid ultraviolet radiation exposure.  Sunscreen should be applied appropriately to bare skin.

Tanning beds are not a safe alternative to sunlight exposure and they increase the risk of development of skin cancer.

Additional risk factors for skin cancer include cigarette smoking, aging and certain viral infections.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends everyone perform regular skin self-exams to detect skin cancer early.  If new or concerning lesions are found, set up an appointment with your physician for further evaluation.


Ryan M. Harden, MD