Skin cancer is once again in the spotlight following the recent death of Celine Dion’s husband, Rene Angelil, and more people are acknowledging the need to regularly check skin growths such as moles. As many as one fifth of Americans are at risk of developing skin cancer in their lifetime. In fact, more cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year than all the diagnoses of colon, breast, prostate and lung cancer combined. Each year over 3.5 million nonmelanoma skin cancers are diagnosed in more than 2 million people in America. Every 57 minutes someone in the U.S dies from melanoma.
The three main types of skin cancer are melanoma, basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). Melanoma, usually caused by exposure to ultra-violet light, is cancer of the melanocytes, the pigment-containing cells in the skin. This type of cancer is the most dangerous of the skin cancers and has the highest risk of death. Despite this the survival rate for melanomas treated before they have spread is as high as 98%. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, BCC, on the other hand, generally does not spread. It involves the growth of abnormal, uncontrolled lesions of the deepest part of the outer layer of skin. SCC, like Melanoma, is also caused by UV exposure and involves abnormal cells in the squamous layer.
Having more than 50 moles, large moles or unusual moles greatly increases your risk of melanoma. Treatment for skin cancer varies, but in most cases, especially basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers, surgery is the most common means of addressing this form of cancer. Treatment for melanoma skin cancer also starts with surgery, sometimes followed with interferon if there is a risk of the cancer returning. Other skin cancer treatment options include radiotherapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy and photodynamic therapy (PDT).
Consulting a dermatologist when you notice changes to a mole, raised brown spots on skin or other skin growth can help to catch skin cancer at the early stage and improve the chance for recovery and minimize potential scarring and disfigurement. You should also keep an eye out for sun damage and ensure that you are adequately protected from UV light by using sunscreen, wearing a hat and/ or covering, especially during very hot weather. If a cancer is diagnosed, a dermatologist can also offer advice on treatment for skin cancer.