This article is the part of a monthly series of stories focused on cancer issues. Denver7 is proud to partner with the American Cancer Society, Cancer Support Community, Colorado Cancer Coalition and Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at HealthONE to bring you these stories, tips and resources.
There are many types of skin cancer, which is one of the most common types of cancer. This year in Colorado, an estimated 1,920 people will be diagnosed with melanoma of the skin. Most skin cancers are caused by an influx of exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays, which come mainly from the sun, but also sources like indoor tanning beds and sun lamps.
With warm summer days around the corner, it’s important for everyone to protect themselves and stay safe in the sun.
Here are some sun safety tips to keep in mind:
- Shade – Seek shade when possible. This is important particularly between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun’s rays are strongest.
- Clothing – Wear clothing like long sleeves and pants that cover and protect your skin.
- Sunscreen – Choose a sunscreen that provides broad spectrum protection from UVA and UVB rays and has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. Be sure to read the label’s directions and apply generously.
- Hats – Hats are another way to protect your skin from the sun. Look for a hat with a 2-to-3 inch brim.
- Sunglasses – Protecting eyes and the skin around the eyes is important. Sunglasses that block 99 to 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays are ideal.
It also important to avoid sun lamps and tanning beds. For additional details, visit the American Cancer Society website.
Skin self-exams are also important and can be done at home. Use a mirror to check your body and look for changes. If you find anything that concerns you, contact your doctor. Those changes could include:
- A sore that bleeds or doesn’t heal after several weeks
- An expanding, new or changing growth, bump or spot on the skin
- A wart-like growth
- A scaly or rough red patch that might bleed or crust
- Changes to a mole’s color, size or shape
- For details on skin self-exams and what to look for, check the ACS website.
The sooner your skin cancer is detected and treated, the greater your chance for recovery is. Oftentimes, skin cancer is very preventable if you take precautions and educate yourself on the dos and don’ts of sun exposure.
Perform a full-body self-exam each month to become familiar with your skin and to identify any changes that could signal skin cancer. You can download a body mole map from the American Academy of Dermatology to learn how to examine your skin and what to look for. If you see anything unusual — a mole or growth that is growing, unusual, bleeding or not like the others — see a dermatologist.
Three common skin cancer types
- Basal cell carcinoma is a slow-growing cancer in the layer just underneath the outer layer of the skin (epidermis) where the basal cells are located. Basal cell carcinoma seldom spreads to other parts of the body.
- Squamous cell carcinoma is more rare than basal cell cancer and lives in the epidermis. It spreads more often than basal cell carcinoma.
- Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer and occurs when melanocytes, the pigment cells in the lower part of the epidermis, become malignant, meaning that they start dividing uncontrollably. If it spreads to the lymph nodes, it may also reach other parts of the body, such as the liver, lungs or brain. In such cases, the disease is called metastatic melanoma.
If you’ve been diagnosed with skin cancer, your doctor will most likely remove the tumor and some of the surrounding tissue via surgery (excision) or a special procedure called Mohs micrographic surgery. If you have melanoma, your doctor may perform a sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB) to help determine the stage.
Then, depending on the type of cancer, its stage, and other factors, your doctor may recommend additional treatment. This can include:
- Radiation therapy, using X-rays that kill the cancer cells (and some normal cells)
- Chemotherapy, using drugs to kill or slow down the cancer cell growth
- Photodynamic therapy (PDT), using a drug and type of laser light to kill cancer cells
- Biologic therapy, which boosts your body’s own ability to fight cancer
- Lymphadenectomy, which surgically removes lymph nodes
- Immunotherapy, which helps the patient’s immune system fight the cancer
- Targeted therapy, using drugs that can shrink the cancer
- Adoptive T-cell therapy, using T-cells from the patient to fight the cancer
- Clinical trial, depending on the type of skin cancer you have, you may be eligible for a type of treatment that is still being tested
If you have been diagnosed with skin cancer, follow your doctor’s recommendations for regular check-ups. This will help ensure that any new cases of skin cancer, or a recurrence of one that has been treated, is caught early enough.