Skin Cancer Clues

More than 2 million people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year. About 90 percent of melanomas are triggered by exposure to the ultraviolet radiation from the sun, as are about 65 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers.

There are three distinct types of skin cancer, depending upon which type of cells are affected. Basal and squamous cell skin cancers are the most common, but it’s the rarer melanoma that’s the most deadly because it is much more likely to spread to other parts of the body. Melanoma causes more than 75 percent of skin cancer deaths annually; it has a survival rate of 99 percent if diagnosed early, but that number falls to 15 percent if the cancer spreads.

Warning Signs Skin cancers have different appearances. Some are small, shiny, scaly and rough, while others are firm and red, or crusty or bleeding. But any skin growth that bleeds, grows in size or doesn’t heal should be seen by a dermatologist.

Remember the features to look for by thinking ABCD:

• Asymmetry – one half of the abnormal area is different from the other half.
• Borders are irregular.
• Color varies from one area to another with shades of tan, brown or black.
• Diameter larger than 6 millimeters, which is the width of a pencil eraser.

What it can be mistaken for – Moles, pimples, freckles, and skin rashes.

The tests you will need Skin cancer diagnosis is made through a biopsy. This usually involves taking a sample by injecting a local anesthesia and scraping off a small piece of skin 9sometimes the entire lesion is removed at the same time). The skin cells are then examined under a microscope to check for cancer cells.

Treatments This depends on the type of skin cancer, where it appears and whether it has spread. Typically, cancers are excised surgically either by simply removing the cancer or performing cryosurgery, a procedure in which liquid nitrogen is applied to the growth to freeze and kill the abnormal cells. Sometimes, surgeons perform Mohs micrographic surgery, a technique used on parts of the body where recurrence of cancer is common and taking away too much tissue can be disfiguring. The surgeon removes a small layer of the tumor and examines if under a microscope during the surgery to see if cancer cells are present. The sequence is repeated until all the cancerous cells are eliminated and as much healthy tissue as possible is left intact.

In the case of melanoma, patients may undergo chemotherapy following surgery if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes or other organs. Radiation therapy, which uses high energy waves to kills cancer cells, may also be employed.

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