According to The Skin Cancer Foundation, over the past three decades, more people have had skin cancers than all other cancers combined.
Other alarming skin cancer stats include:
• More than 5.4 million cases of nonmelanoma skin cancer are treated in more than 3.3 million people each year in the United States.
• There are more new cases of skin cancer than the combined incidence of cancers of the breast, prostate, lung and colon.
• One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime.
Given these statistics it’s important to understand skin cancer, what to watch for and what to do if you find suspicious places on your skin or that of a loved one.
In this four-part Skin Cancer Primer provided by Price Skincare of Ridgeland, Mississippi, we will cover four of the most common types of skin cancer: actinic keratosis, basal cell skin cancer, squamous and melanoma.
We’ll teach you about each cancer’s:
• Risk factors
Skin Cancer Primer Series Part I: Actinic Keratosis
Actinic keratosis (AK) presents as scaly, crusty growths (lesions) on the face, scalp, lips, and the back of the hands. The growths are often raised, rough, and look somewhat like warts. Although most lesions turn red, some present as tan, pink, and/or flesh-toned. Lesions can present differently so if you see anything suspicious, see your doctor. Other possible signs of AK include:
• Rough patch of skin that cannot be seen
• Rough patch or growth that feels painful to the touch
• Itching or burning
• Dry lips
Those most at risk for AK include people who have:
• Fair complexions and light skin
• Blonde or red hair
• Blue, green or grey eyes
• Overexposed themselves to the sun
• Are 40 years of age or older
• A weak immune system
• A medical condition that makes the skin sensitive to UV rays
The primary cause of AK is exposure to the sun’s UV rays. Those who work outdoors and participate in outdoor recreational activities are especially at risk.
AK is diagnosed by a physician during a physical examination. Should the physician see something suspicious, he or she may perform a skin biopsy to confirm a diagnosis.
Almost all AKs can be eliminated before becoming skin cancer if treated early. Various treatment options are available, which depend on the growth’s characteristics and the patient’s age and health. Some of these strategies increase sun sensitivity, so check with your doctor, and be especially diligent about using sun protection during the treatment period. Common treatments include one or more of the following.
• Topical medications
• Photodynamic therapy
• Curettage and electrodessication
• Chemical peeling
• Laser surgery
Although most cases of AK are benign, up to 10 percent may advance to a more dangerous form of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma. The more lesions one has, the greater the chances of one or more turning cancerous. Some researchers believe that AK is an early form of squamous cell carcinoma.
The best way to minimize your risks of AK is to protect yourself from the sun. Tips for protecting yourself from the sun’s harmful rays:
• Avoid the sun’s peak hours between 10AM-4PM.
• Wear proper clothes and headgear
• Wear sunscreen with a SPF of 15 or higher. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
• Avoid sun tanning, UV tanning booths and ‘sunburn art’.
• Take extra care around water, snow, ice, sand and high altitudes as the sun’s ultraviolet rays are stronger in high altitudes.
In addition, you should perform a head-to-toe self-examination every month and see your doctor every year for a professional skin exam.