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Skin Cancer: How to spot the most common of all cancers

 |  General

Most of us love the fact that Arizona is one of the sunniest states in the country. On average, there are 296 sunny days per year in Phoenix, and Yuma gets the distinction of “Sunniest Place on Earth.”

Sunshine can be a mood booster, but UV radiation from the sun can damage the DNA in skin cells. If enough damage builds up over time, it can lead to skin cancer — the most common of all cancers.

3 Types of Skin Cancer

In the U.S., more than 9,500 people are diagnosed with skin cancer every day. More than two people die of the disease every hour. It’s important to know the three types of skin cancers and what to look for:

  1. Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common form of skin cancer and it’s also the least dangerous. In the U.S., an estimated 3.6 million cases are diagnosed each year. Warning signs include open sores, red patches, pink growths, shiny bumps, scars or growths with slightly elevated, rolled edges, and/or a central indentation. BCCs rarely metastasize, but they do require treatment. Basal cell cancers frequently occur on the face, so removal, when they are small, is important to minimize scarring. 
  2. Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is diagnosed in an estimated 1.8 million people in the U.S. each year. This type of cancer also usually occurs in sun-exposed areas of the skin. These tumors can look like scaly red patches, warts or open sores. They may also crust or bleed. If left untreated, SCCs can metastasize, and in fact, this type of skin cancer is deadly for more than 15,000 Americans each year.
  3. Melanoma is the most dangerous skin cancer. It accounts for only about 1% of skin cancers but it is more likely to spread. This type of cancer can occur at any age.  Sunburns as a child or teenager may increase the risk of this type of skin cancer. Melanoma is more common in lighter-skinned populations but can also affect persons who are Hispanic, Black, or Asian. It is important to know that in darker-skinned populations, melanoma is more likely to occur in skin with less pigment like the soles of the feet or the nail beds. The good news is that when detected early, the 5-year survival rate for melanoma is 99 percent. The majority of melanomas appear black or dark brown, but they can also appear pink, white, red, blue, or purple. One way to detect melanoma is to use the “ABCDE rule,” which examines a mole’s asymmetry, border, color, diameter, and takes into consideration whether the mole is evolving in size, shape, or color.

Sneaky Spots Where Skin Cancer Hides

People are often surprised to learn that skin cancer can show up in places that don’t see the sun. While UV rays play a major role in damaging skin, other factors, like age, one’s immune system, environmental factors and genetics, and family history can also contribute to skin cancer.

Skin cancer can show up on the scalp, on eyelids, on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet, on the nail beds of fingers and toenails, between your toes, and even in the crease of the buttocks and near the genitals. This is why it’s so important to schedule annual skin cancer screenings. Some physicians recommend that these screenings should start for adults in their 20s and 30s.

Protect Yourself

No matter what time of year, take the time to protect yourself before you go outside. Use a broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. Cover up with clothing, UV-blocking sunglasses, and wear a broad-brimmed hat. And, seek shade whenever possible, particularly between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

New patients can call Bayless Integrated Healthcare at 602-777-6337 for a free, 15-minute wellness consultation. You can also click here to make an appointment online. Remember, if you are experiencing a crisis, please call 911 immediately.