Monday, March 16, 2009
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States – an estimated million cases are diagnosed annually and around 20% of people will show signs of skin cancer at some point during their lifetime. Less than 1,000 people die from skin cancer in a typical year, although if you have any skin cancer symptoms or experienced any skin cancer warning signs, it’s important to have them checked.
People of all skin tones can develop skin cancer, including those with darker skin tones; and it’s important to know what some of the skin cancer warning signs are. Skin cancer tends to develop more on those parts of the body that are more often exposed to the sun – face, neck, chest, back, arms and legs – although it can also develop on areas not usually exposed to sunlight.
There are several types of skin cancer; melanoma is the most serious and causes the most deaths. Anyone can get melanoma, although if there is a history of it in your family, you are more susceptible. And if you spend lots of time outdoors, live at a higher altitude where UV rays are not filtered as effectively, or have had several bad sunburns, you also have a higher risk of developing melanoma.
Moles and freckles are two of the biggest warning signs of melanoma. A melanoma can not only form on the skin, but will frequently grow from an existing mole or freckle. One of the biggest differences between normal moles and melanomas is the color – a normal mole or freckle is black or brown, with a well-defined edge; a melanoma is often multicolored, has different shades, or may ooze fluid.
It’s possible to examine your own body regularly to try to keep track of any freckles, moles or blemishes. Be particularly careful of any that seem to grow in size, are different colors or won’t heal. If in doubt, always have any suspicious moles or freckles examined by a doctor – the sooner they are treated, the less chance of the disease spreading to other parts of the body.
Basal cell carcinoma is the commonest form of the disease also. Warning signs include a flesh-colored or brown lesion on the back or chest, or a waxy bump on the neck, face or ears. This type of skin cancer is not likely to spread to other areas of the body; it’s also fairly easy to treat. Squamous cell carcinoma is also easily treated; warning symptoms of this include a lesion with a crusty surface on the arms or face; or a red nodule on the face, neck or arms.
There are several less common forms of skin cancer. Merkel cell carcinoma is rare, although it can spread rapidly. The warning signs are firm, shiny nodules found in hair follicles and just below the skin on areas of the body exposed to the sun. Also rare is Kaposi’s sarcoma, found mainly in people with a weakened immune system; warning signs are purple patches on the skin. Sebaceous gland carcinoma is characterized by hard nodules on the body, especially on the eyelid.
Skin cancer is completely curable, if found and treated early enough. The hard part is perhaps determining what the warning sign of skin cancer is and what is normal – if in any doubt, have it checked out by a doctor or skin specialist.
By: E B Ezidiegwu
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