Skin Cancer: Detection and Prevention

By: Jere J. Mammino, D.O.


Fortunately, the most common types of Skin Cancers have a cure rate of more than 95% if they are detected and treated early. Even better, almost all Skin Cancers can be prevented simply by protecting the skin from sun's harmful rays.

Is there more than one type of Skin Cancer?

There are three types of Skin Cancer. BASAL CELL CARCINOMAS are the most common, accounting for 80% of the Skin Cancers that develope each year; together with a second type of Skin Cancer, SQUAMOUS CELL CARCINOMA, they outnumber all other cancers combined. If detected and treated at an early stage, these two tumors cause few serious complications and fewer deaths. The third and least common form of Skin Cancer, MALIGNANT MELANOMA, is by far more lethal, killing nearly 7,000 Americans each year.

What are the signs of these Skin Cancers?

BASAL CELL CARCINOMAS are slow growing tumors that usually appear as smooth, pink bumps with a pearly sheen that later crust, ulcerate, and bleed. They commonly occur on the sun exposed parts of the body, especially the head, neck and hands.

SQUAMOUS CELL CARCINOMAS are typically raised, scaly, pink, wart like growths, which ulcerate as they enlarge. These are also common on the sun exposed areas. If not treated, this cancer can become a large mass and can spread to other parts of the body.

The first sign of a MALGNANT MELANOMA may be the development of a multicolored mole with jagged uneven borders or any other change in size, shape or color. Unlike the other Skin Cancers, these can occur on any part of the body. If not treated at an early stage, these fast growing tumors can quickly spread to other parts of the body.

When should I consult my Doctor about a Skin Growth?

If you notice any unusual mole or skin growth, contact your physician. The danger signs of MALIGNANT MELANOMA can be remembered by using the following ABCD: Asymmetry (melanomas are often uneven in shape), Border (jagged rather than smooth), Color (mixed shades of tan, brown, and black) and Diameter (larger than a pencil eraser).

How is Skin Cancer treated?

If they are caught early, the vast majority of BASAL CELL and SQUAMOUS CELL Skin Cancers can be surgically removed in a simple, painless procedure right in a dermatologist's office. Treatment for MALIGNANT MELANOMA is more complicated, but surgery is effective for most early stage tumors.

How can I prevent Skin Cancer?

   1. Minimize exposure to the sun, especially from 10am to 3pm, when the solar radiation is most intense.
   2. When outdoors, wear protective clothing and a wide brimmed hat.
   3. When outside (even on cloudy days), liberally apply a waterproof sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 to all exposed body parts.
   4. Avoid tanning salons and sun lamps. These rays are similar to sunlight and can cause sunburn, premature skin aging and Skin Cancer.
   5. Keep infants under 6 months old out of direct sunlight, apply sunscreen to older children, and minimize their sun exposure. Teach all children about skin protection, since sun damage mouints up over a lifetime.