Our sun has a glowing image in the public eye: it makes us feel great and look healthy, it initiates Vitamin D synthesis in the skin and prevents rickets, and it is the source of life for our planet and our solar-system. But we must learn to respect its power, and its potential to cause serious harm or even kill. It is important that you get all the facts about what sun rays can do to you, and what you can do to protect yourself sensibly.
The Earth’s protective ozone layer, the atmospheric layer that helps filter out the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays, is depleting rapidly. With these recent disturbing changes in the earth’s atmosphere, more UV rays are reaching the earth’s surface. Now, more than ever, the sun represents a serious threat to the health of your skin. Yet, despite the increased risk of overexposure to the sun’s rays, many people still insist on sun-worshipping, allowing the warmth of sunlight to cloud the facts.
Skin Cancer is the most prevalent of all cancers. Estimates vary on its occurrence, but Americans report 700,000 to 900,000 new cases of skin cancer each year (a figure that reportedly is rising steadily). The principal cause of skin cancer is almost universally accepted to be overexposure to the sun’s harmful rays, especially when it results in sunburn and/or blistering. Other factors can include repeated medical & industrial x-ray exposure, scarring from disease or burns, occupational exposure to such compounds as coal and arsenic, and family history.
The sun emits three types of UV rays in addition to its emission of short, visible, and infrared rays. The UV rays include UVA, UVB, & UVC rays. Of these three, only UVA & UVB rays penetrate the ozone layer and reach the earth’s surface. Both types can cause sagging, wrinkling, premature aging and skin cancer, while UVB rays also cause visible sunburning. So, even when your skin shows no visible signs of the sun’s effect, damage can occur to the underlying layers of your skin. With the proper precautions, you can enjoy outdoor activities in the sun without placing your skin or your health at risk.
Early Detection Through Periodic Self-Examination
Skin Cancer is the most easily preventable, detectable, and curable form of cancer. If a malignant lesion is caught in it's early stages, it is almost totally curable. To aid in the early recognition of lesions, periodic self-examinations are extremely helpful (as are regular visits to the physician).
It is a simple 5 step process to inspect your body for skin changes, and all you need is a full length mirror, a hand mirror, and a brightly lit room:
- Examine the front and back of your body in the mirror, and then the right an left sides, with your arms raised.
- Bend your elbows, look carefully at your forearms, the back of your upper arms and your palms.
- Next look at the backs of your legs and feet, the spaces between your toes, and your soles.
- Examine the back of your neck and scalp with a hand mirror. Part your hair to lift.
- Finally, check the blind spots on your back and buttocks with the hand mirror.
What Signs am I Looking For?
Actinic Keratosis: These small scaly precancerous lesions are most commonly found on the face and back of the hands of fair-skinned individuals who have had significant sun exposure. If they go untreated, they may become skin cancer.
Basal Cell Carcinoma: The most common form of skin cancer, this tumor of the skin often appears as a flat pinkish growth or as a small fleshy bump or nodule on the head, neck, hands and sometimes the trunk. These tumors do not spread quickly, it may take many months or years for one to reach a diameter of 1/2 inch. If untreated, the cancer will begin to bleed, crust over, then repeat the cycle. It rarely spreads to other parts of the body (metastasizes), but it can extend below the skin to the local area and cause considerable damage.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma: These tumors may appear as nodules or as red, crusty, scaly patches, and are the second most common form of skin cancer. They are typically found on the rim of the ear, face, lips, and mouth. When rubbed, they are frequently tender and bleed easily. When untreated, they may develop into larger masses and metastasize.
Malignant Melanoma is the most virulent and deadly of all skin cancers. Melanoma has its beginnings in melanocytes, the skin cells that produce the dark protective pigment called melanin. It is melanin that is responsible for suntanned skin, acting as partial protection against the sun. Melanoma cells usually continue to produce melanin, which accounts for the cancers appearing in mixed shades of tan, brown, and black. Melanoma can spread rapidly, so it is essential to treat as quickly as possible. Melanoma does not necessarily favor lighter skin types, so dark skinned people need to be equally as vigilant for warning signs. Warning signs include changes in the surface of a mole, scaliness, oozing, bleeding, or the appearance of a bump or nodule; the spread of pigment from the border of a mole to the surrounding skin; and changes in sensation such as itchiness, tenderness, or pain.
Am I At Risk For Skin Cancer?
Take This Quiz:
- Are you fair skinned and/or freckled?
- Do you burn easily when you first go into the sun, and later tan?
- Do you enjoy the outdoors?
- Do you live in a sunny climate or vacation in sunny places?
- Do you live or vacation at high altitudes?
Chances are, you answered yes to at least one of these questions. This simple quiz should indicate how easy it is to be at risk for skin cancer. Almost everyone is.
At Brummitte Dale Wilson, M.D. & Associates, we are aggressive in the prevention, detection, and treatment of skin cancer. We use the very latest, most advanced, and most effective surgical techniques & equipment available. Patients can rest assured that they can depend on the highest possible cure rate with complete removal of their cancer through microscopic control.
There are several effective methods available for treating skin cancers - the method of choice depends on the location and size of the cancer, the patient's needs, and the previous response to treatment. Treatments can include simple excisions, laser surgery or Moh's Surgery. In the treatment of any of the skin cancers, early detection and removal is the best defense.