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What You Need to Know About Skin Cancer

       The warmer days are coming, which means you will be out in the sun. Even though you should protect yourself from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays every day, the summer is when you expose yourself more often. The risk of skin cancer starts the second you are exposed to the sun. Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers, but not all skin cancers are the same. The three most common types are skin cancers are:  squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Here is everything you need to know about skin cancer.

        Squamous cell carcinoma of the skin develops in the squamous cells that are in the epidermis. Squamous cell carcinoma occurs on sun exposed skin. This cancer is usually not life-threatening, but it can be aggressive. If left untreated, squamous cell carcinoma can grow large and spread to other parts of the body, which can cause serious complications. Most squamous cell carcinomas of the skin result from prolonged exposure to ultraviolet radiation from either the sunlight or tanning beds. Avoiding ultraviolet light helps reduce your risk of squamous cell carcinoma and others forms of skin cancer.  

        Some signs of squamous cell carcinoma are, a firm red nodule, a flat sore with a scaly crust or a rough scaly patch on your lip that that may evolve to an open sore, or a red sore or patch inside your mouth. Squamous cell carcinoma occurs when flat, thin squamous cells in the epidermis develop mutations in your DNA. A cell’s DNA contains the instructions that tell a cell what to do. The mutations tell the squamous cell to grow out of control and continue to live when the cell would normally die. Make an appointment with Dr. Kurzman if you have a sore or scab that does not heal in about two months or a flat patch of scaly skin that will not go away.

        Basal cell carcinoma begins in the basal cells, a type of cell in the skin that produces new skin cells as old ones die off. Basal carcinoma often appears as a slightly transparent bump on the skin, though it can take other forms. Basal carcinoma most often occurs on areas of the skin that have been exposed to the sun, such as your head and neck but may occur anywhere on the body. Most basal cell carcinomas are thought to be caused by long-term exposure to ultraviolet radiation from sun light. Avoiding the sun and using sunscreen may help protect against basal cell carcinoma.   

        Basal cell carcinoma usually appears as a change in the skin, such as a growth or a sore that will not heal. Some signs of basal cell carcinoma are, a pearly white, skin-colored, or pink bump, a brown, black, or blue lesion, a flat, scaly, reddish patch, or a white, waxy, scar-like lesion. Make an appointment with Dr. Kurzman if you observe any changes in the appearance of your skin, such as a new growth, a change in a previous growth, or a recurring sore.



        Melanoma is the least common of the three skin cancers, but the most serious. Melanoma develops in the cells that produce melanin, the pigment that gives your skin it’s color. Melanoma can also form in your eyes and sometimes, but rarely, inside your body, such as in your nose or in your throat. The exact cause if melanoma is not clear but exposure to ultraviolet radiation from sunlight or tanning beds can increase your risk of developing melanoma. Limiting your exposure to ultraviolet radiation can help reduce your risk of melanoma.  

         The risk of melanoma seems to be increasing in people under 40, especially in women. Knowing the warning sides of skin cancer can help you detect cancerous changes on your skin and get it treated before the cancer spreads. Melanoma can be treated successfully if it is detected early. Melanomas can develop anywhere on your body. They most often develop on areas of your skin that have had exposure the sun can also appear in areas that are not usually exposed to the sun. These areas include the soles of your feet, palms of your hands, and fingernail beds. These hidden melanomas are more common in people with darker skin.

        The first melanoma signs and symptoms are often, a change in an existing mole or the development of a new pigmented or unusual looking growth on your skin. Melanoma does not always begin as a mole. It can also occur on otherwise normal appearing skin, but you should know the difference between normal moles and unusual moles.

         Normal moles are generally tan or brown, with a smooth, even border separating your mole from your surrounding skin. They are oval or round with an even pigmentation and usually smaller than ¼ inch in diameter. Most moles start appearing in childhood, but moles can form until you are about 40. By the time you are an adult, you have between 10 to 40 moles. Moles can change in appearance over time and even disappear with age.

         So, are your moles unusual? Look for moles with irregular shapes, such as two different looking halves. Look for moles with irregular borders. Look for growths that have many colors or an uneven distribution of colors. Look for new growths in moles larger than ¼ inch. Look for changes over time, such as a mole that grows or that changes in color or shape. Look for a new mole that has not been on the skin before. Moles may also evolve to develop new signs and symptoms, such as itchiness or bleeding. Cancerous moles vary in appearance, some may show all these changes. Melanomas can also be hidden under a nail, in the mouth, or in the eye. Make an appointment with Dr. Kurzman if you notice any skin changes that seem unusual.

         Factors that may increase your risk of skin cancer are, fair skin, a history of sunburn, excessive UV light exposure, having many moles, a family history of melanoma, and a weakened immune system. The best way to reduce your risk of melanoma and other skin cancers is to protect your skin from the sun, depending on the fairness of your skin and the UV index, UV rays can damage your skin in as little as five minutes. Sun protection is essential to prevent skin cancer. Avoid the mid-day sun, wear broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30+, apply sunscreen generously, reapply sunscreen often, do not forget to cover spots like your scalp, tops of your ears, and tops of your feet. Wear sunscreen everyday regardless of the weather. Wear lip balm with SPF, wear UV protecting sunglasses, wear protective clothing and hats.

            It is important to be familiar with your skin so you can notice any changes in it. The earlier skin cancer is detected, the more treatable it is. Make an appointment with Dr. Kurzman right away if you recognize any changes. Make sure you are also scheduling your yearly skin screening!

Samantha Durst

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