While it is not the most prevalent type of cancer (breast cancer is the most common form of cancer with nearly 270,000 new cases in 2018) skin cancer is one of the more frequently diagnosed cancer types. In fact, about 20% of Americans will contract skin cancer before the age of 70. Given this statistic, it is useful for everyone to learn a few things about skin cancer. Here are five facts about skin cancer and the options for skin cancer treatment:
Causes of Skin Cancer
Skin cancer results from damage to the DNA of skin cells. The most common cause of damage is ultraviolet (or UV) radiation from the sun. In addition to visible light, the sun emits many forms of invisible radiation including UV rays. Unlike other forms of radiation, such as x-rays, UV rays do not have enough energy to penetrate the body. However, UV rays do have enough energy to damage, or ionize, the molecules in the skin. When DNA molecules are ionized in this manner, skin cancer can result.
Skin Cancer Prevention
The most effective form of prevention against skin cancer is to cover up. Hats, long sleeve shirts, long pants, and parasols all stop UV rays. However, this is unrealistic for many people, which leads them to sunscreens.
UV rays are divided into three categories based on their energy. UVA rays are the least energetic. UVA causes tanning and may be responsible for some adverse effects to the skin, such as wrinkles. UVA is believed to lack the energy to play a direct role in cancer cell formation. UVB is more energetic than UVA and holds primary responsibility for sunburns and skin cancers. UVC is the most energetic but cannot reach the ground because the atmosphere absorbs most of it through interactions with ozone.
Sunscreens are formulated to block UVA and UVB rays. There are two forms of sunscreens. The less common type uses inorganic compounds to physically block or deflect the UV rays from striking the skin. The more common type uses organic compounds to absorb the UV rays and convert its energy to heat. Sun protection factor (or SPF) gives a measure of how well a sunscreen protects the skin. The scale is inversely proportionate to the amount of sunlight allowed by the sunscreen. Thus, SPF 30 allows 1/30th of the UV rays through, while SPF 15 allows 1/15th of the UV rays through. This means that higher SPF numbers identify sunscreens that are more protective of the skin.
Skin Cancer Types
There are three common types of skin cancer and about three less common types of skin cancer. The three common types are distinguished by the skin cells affected.
- Basal cell carcinoma occurs in areas of the skin that have been exposed to sun. It is characterized by a shiny bump; a firm, shiny or waxy lesion; a firm, brown or reddish brown lesion; or a sore that does not appear to heal or recurs after healing.
- Squamous cell carcinoma occurs in areas of the skin exposed to sunlight. Its characteristics are a hard, red bump or a crusty, scaly lesion.
- Melanoma can develop anywhere, regardless of whether the skin has been exposed to the sun. It is characterized by a dark spot; a dark spot with speckles; a lesion or mole that is irregular in shape and color; or lesions that itch, burn, or bleed.
Skin Cancer Treatment
Skin cancer doctors have many options for treatment. Among the skin cancer treatment options are
- Surgical procedures to remove the cancerous cells
- Chemotherapy treatment to destroy the cancerous cells with drugs
- Radiation therapy to destroy the cancerous cells with radiation
- Cryotherapy to freeze the cancerous cells and
- Photodynamic therapy to destroy the cancerous cells with laser light
The choice of which form of skin cancer treatment a cancer specialist may choose to use depends on a number of factors, including the stage of the cancer and the size of the cancerous lesion.
Skin Cancer Survivability
The survivability of skin cancer depends on many factors including the stage of the cancer at which it was discovered and the age and health of the patient. However, when detected early, the survival rate for melanoma is 99%.
Skin cancer is detectable, even at home, because it is visible. Prevention and early detection can make skin cancer highly survivable.