Signs and symptoms
Skin cancer, or melanoma, is the most common form of cancer in the United States. It is most often caused by rogue cells that mutate when they are exposed to UV rays from the sun or tanning beds. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer over the course of their lifetime. The good news is that it is one of the most treatable forms of cancer…if it is detected early. Experts recommend using the “ABC” method of detection:
– Asymmetry: The mole is not evenly shaped.
– Border: The edges are irregularly shaped, with ragged, notched or blurred spots.
– Color: The mole is not uniformly colored. Brown or black may be interspersed with red, pink, white or blue patches.
– Diameter: The mole is more than ¼”, or about 6mm in diameter.
– Evolving: A benign (non-cancerous mole) will not change in size, shape or color. Any mole that does so should be screened as soon as possible.
These are the most common signs to look for, however some cancers do not “fit the mold”. You should notify your doctor if you have spots that are bleeding, sores that do not heal, itchy or scaly patches or a change in sensation (itching, tenderness) around or on a mole.
If skin cancer is detected early, it is a highly treatable cancer. While new treatments are constantly being developed, the method with the highest success rate is a procedure called Mohs Micrographic Surgery, which was developed in the 1930’s and is still widely used today.
The treatment allows the surgeon to remove the cancerous tissue without damaging the surrounding areas, preserving healthy skin. Mohs currently has a more than 98% cure rate for Basal Cell Carcinoma and Squamous Cell Carcinoma, two of the most common forms of skin cancer.
How it works
The surgeon will remove one thin layer of tissue at a time, examining it under a microscope for the presence of cancerous cells. Layers will be removed and examined until the margins of the tissue sample are completely cancer free, and the procedure is over. By removing one layer at a time, the doctor is able to examine each for cancerous cells, eliminating the guesswork and allowing for as little tissue damage as possible.
When it comes to skin cancer, prevention is key. Suggestions to minimize your risk of cancer and protect your skin include:
Avoiding the sun between 10am and 4pm, typically the hottest time of the day.
– Never use tanning beds. Their concentrated UV rays can accelerate the growth of cancerous cells.
– Wear loose clothing that will protect you from the sun.
– Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher every day, even if the sun is not out. UV rays can be just as strong when it is cloudy as they can when the sun is out.
– Examine your skin every month for suspicious moles or areas.
– Have a physical examination once a year.
Remember, skin cancer is highly treatable if it is detected early, so be vigilant and take proper precautions!
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