Risk Factors Involved in Skin Cancer and Treatment Options
Skin cancer can affect anyone: people with light or dark skin, older adults or teens, men and women. According to the American Cancer Society, skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States, although the exact number of cases is unknown because cancer registries do not track all cases. It’s crucial to know the risk factors involved in skin cancer in order to seek screening and treatment options if you should develop the disease.
Providers at Altru Cancer Center are experts in the diagnosis and treatment of all types of skin cancer. Our team works collaboratively to create a personalized treatment plan that meets your individual needs. Altru Cancer Center providers also have access to experts at the world-renowned Mayo Clinic through the Mayo Clinic Care Network, giving you access to advanced cancer treatments and, in some cases, eliminating the need for you to travel far from home.
The most common types of skin cancer include:
- Basal cell carcinoma. This is the most common type of skin cancer. It may look different from person to person and can manifest as a flesh-colored bump, a pink patch or a wound on the skin. Basal cell carcinoma can appear anywhere on the body, but often form on the head, neck and arms.
- Squamous cell carcinoma. This is the second most prevalent skin cancer. It can appear as a hard red bump, patch with scales, or nonhealing sore. Squamous cell carcinoma forms in areas of the body that are typically exposed to the sun, including the ears, face, neck, back, arms and chest.
- Melanoma. This type of cancer can be fatal if left untreated. Melanoma can develop inside a mole already on your skin or as a new spot. It will be a dark spot that may stand out from the others.
- Physical characteristics—While individuals with darker skin also get skin cancer, having lighter skin color means you’re at greater risk. Typically, men and women at increased risk have skin that sunburns easily, light-colored eyes and hair, and several moles.
- Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays—UV rays damage the DNA inside skin cells. Skin cancer can grow when the damage affects the genes that control skin cancer growth.
- Personal or family skin cancer history
- Medical conditions that suppress the immune system
- Skin ulcers or scars
While many cancers are inevitable, skin cancer can often be prevented. Only a few risk factors cannot be prevented, such as family history and physical characteristics. But most skin cancer cases are caused by UV radiation. Here is what you can do to be proactive against skin cancer:
- Avoid sunbathing and use of tanning beds.
- Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30.
- Seek shade when the sun’s rays are strongest, or between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
- Wear sun-protective clothing whenever possible, such as long-sleeve shirts, pants and a wide-brimmed hat.
Symptoms of Skin Cancer
Skin cancer will appear as a change in the appearance of a mole or skin lesion. It may also develop as a new skin growth or nonhealing sore. To help detect melanoma, look out for the ABCDEs of skin cancer:
- Asymmetrical—Both sides of the mole do not match.
- Border—The border is uneven or blurred.
- Color—The mole varies in color.
- Diameter—Many melanomas are larger than 6 millimeters, or the size of a pencil eraser.
- Evolving—The spot is changing in appearance.
You can do your part to monitor for skin cancer. Regular skin self-exams using the ABCDEs of melanoma can help you catch any cancerous moles. If you see anything of concern, especially changes in a mole, itching or bleeding, reach out to your primary care physician or a dermatologist. Never diagnose yourself or attempt treatment on your own. Although online images of cancer growths can help you while doing a skin self-exam, your healthcare provider can confirm a diagnosis and recommend next steps of treatment.
Early treatment of skin cancer could save your life. Most cases of nonmelanoma cancer can be treated effectively. Melanoma, when caught early, can also be curable. Here are some common treatments recommended for skin cancer:
- Topical medications
- Photodynamic therapy
- Biologic therapy
- Surgery for skin cancer: excision, curettage and electrodesiccation, lymph node surgery, skin grafting and reconstruction
- Radiation therapy
Recovery will be based on your individual circumstances and treatment. After treatment, you will have several follow-up appointments with your physician to monitor your progress and check for possible side effects from treatment. You may need to visit your physician from every three months to once a year.
Since patients recovering from skin cancer are more likely to get the disease again, a physician will guide you on how to reduce your risk. This could include examining your skin for any changes, having further screenings, and continued protection of your skin from the sun.
The oncology experts at Altru can help you navigate all of our services for skin cancer. Call 701.780.5400 to speak with someone on our team.