SKIN CANCER INFORMATION
By Cindy Safstrom Princen
That Elegant Touch Salon & Day Spa
Because I lost my husband of 37 years to melanoma skin cancer, I have compiled some information for others in the hopes that skin cancer can be avoided or at the very least be detected early enough to be successfully treated.
Some of the following can be symptoms:
• Small, smooth, shiny, pale or waxy lump,
• Firm red lump,
• Sore or lump that bleeds or develops a crust or scab,
• Flat red spot that is rough, dry or scaly and may become itchy or tender, and
• Red or brown patch that is rough or scaly.
• Melanoma usually appears as an irregular brown black and/or red spot or changing mole. Among white men it most frequently appears on the trunk while in white women on the lower leg. Although melanoma among blacks is rare, it most frequently appears on palms, soles of feet and skin under the nails.
Growths can be either benign or malignant.
• Rarely life threatening
• Generally can be removed and will usually not grow back
• Do not invade tissues around them
• Do not spread to other parts of the body
• May be life threatening
• Can be removed but will sometimes grow back
• Can invade and damage nearby tissues and organs
• Can spread to other parts of the body – metastasis
STAGES OF CANCER
0 – The cancer involves only top layer of skin
1 – The growth is 2 centimeters wide (3/4” or smaller)
2 – The growth is larger than ¾”
3 – The cancer has spread below the skin to cartilage, muscle, bone or to nearby lymph nodes. It has not spread to other places in the body.
4 – The cancer has spread to other places in the body.
I know that people have many questions about cancer just as my husband and I did when he was diagnosed. Because we really were so ignorant of the symptoms, Jim was already a stage 4 melanoma when diagnosed. Hopefully, the following will be a benefit in providing some basic information.
1. Is sun exposure the only way to get skin cancer?
No. Skin cancer begins in the cells, the building blocks that make up the skin. Normally skin cells grow and divide to form new cells. Everyday skin cells grow old and die and new cells take their place. Sometimes this process goes wrong. New cells form when the skin does not need them and old cells do not die when they should. These extra cells form a mass of tissue called a growth or tumor which can be benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).
2. How much sun is too much?
Our skin is the largest organ of our body. It protects us from many things, the sun being one of them. When you see your skin darkening, such as in tanning, your skin is actually producing melanin to protect itself. It is not advisable to tan or risk getting burned as both are too much sun.
3. Is it okay to get a suntan?
No. It is best to stay out of the sun mid morning to late afternoon. Also stay away from tanning beds and sun lamps. Stop and think. To get a tan in a shorter period of time, the rays are more concentrated as is the case with tanning beds and sun lamps.
4. Does sun block help? Do you look for SPF only or are there other important ingredients?
Sunscreen lotions can help to prevent skin cancer, especially broad spectrum sunscreen. Broad spectrum sunscreen has ingredients to filter out UVB and UVA rays. Make sure that the lotion has a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30.
5. What preventative measures can you take?
Because UV radiation can go thru light clothing, windshields, windows and clouds: it is advisable to always protect your skin. Stay out of the midday sun. Use broad spectrum sunscreen to filter UVB and UVA rays with at least a SPF of 30 whenever you plan to be in the sun. Wear long sleeves and long pants of tightly woven fabrics, a hat with a wide brim and sunglasses that absorb UV rays if you need to be out in the midday sun. Always stay away from tanning booths and sunlamps.
If you have to have a tan, try the spray tanning offered in many spas or use the lotions that you can apply to tan your skin.
6. Is skin tone (fair skin) or ethnicity a factor in developing skin cancer?
UV radiation affects everyone, but people who have fair skin that freckles or burns easily are at greater risk. These people also often have blond or red hair and light colored eyes.
People who live in areas who get high levels of UV radiation such as in Florida and Texas have a higher risk of skin cancer.
7. At what age do people tend to discover they have skin cancer?
People tend to discover they have skin cancer at age 50 years or older. You do hear of people getting skin cancer at a younger age although not nearly as many people or as frequently.
8. What is the incidence rate of skin cancer and how fast is it growing?
I have been told that melanoma, although less common than basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma, is on the rise. This cancer is much more dangerous, although if it is caught early, it is potentially curable.
9. What do you look for in a self examination?
A change in the skin is the most common sign of skin cancer. There may be a new growth, a sore that doesn’t heal or a change in an old growth. Not all skin cancers look the same. Some can be painful although usually it is not.
It is advisable to do a thorough self exam around the same time each month. If you find something that concerns you or looks different, see a dermatologist or another doctor to have it checked.
10. When should you see a dermatologist?
I feel that seeing a dermatologist should be on a yearly basis as other yearly checkups are done. Should you find a growth or spot that concerns you in the interim, see that doctor again. No one knows your body as well as you do and if something has changed, it needs to be checked out. What can you loose?
11. What types of skin cancer are there?
There are many types of skin cancer. The two most common are the basal cell and the squamous cell sometimes referred to as nomelanoma skin cancer.
Basal cell grows slowly, usually occurs on areas of the skin that have been in the sun, and rarely spreads to other parts of the body.
Squamous cell also occurs in areas of skin that have been in the sun but may also be in places that have not been in the sun. It sometimes spreads to lymph nodes and organs inside the body.
Melanoma is less common but is much more dangerous and its frequency is on the rise.
12. Is there anything you can do if you no longer sun, but have previously spent a lot of time in the sun?
As mentioned earlier, see a dermatologist on a regular basis and take all the precautions necessary to no longer be exposed to the UVB and UVA rays.