The Skin Cancer Foundation estimates that one person dies from cancer of the skin every hour in the United States. Skin cancer can be essentially divided into two categories: melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancer (NMSC) and both types have been increasing at alarming rates worldwide. The risk factors for the development of skin cancer include light-colored skin, eyes, and hair, ultraviolet radiation (sun) exposure, tanning parlor use, smoking, increased age, immune system suppression and certain genetic diseases. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer, followed by squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma.
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) usually appears as a skin-colored to reddish bump on sun-exposed skin, such as the face, scalp, arms and legs. While less common, lesions on sun-protected skin may also be seen, particularly in patients who frequent tanning parlors. BCC usually doubles in size yearly and can invade into surrounding tissue with a destructive effect. It can also very rarely spread to other organs (metastasize) if left untreated. Multiple surgical and nonsurgical therapeutic options exist, and these must be discussed with your dermatologist. Early detection and treatment is the key to prevent disfiguring lesions.
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common cancer of the skin. It usually appears as red, scaly bumps in a similar distribution as BCC, but it is more aggressive and may metastasize, particularly in patients with a compromised immune system. A precursor to SCC is called an actinic keratosis (AK). These lesions can be cured with freezing techniques performed in the office and/or topical creams, which underscores the utility of early detection.
Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. It often resembles moles, but some lesions can be skin-colored or pink. The ABCDE rule of melanoma indicates that melanomas are typically asymmetric, have irregular borders, irregular color, a diameter greater than 6 mm and evolve. It should be noted that not all melanomas have these characteristics, so a regular complete skin exam with a dermatologist is crucial to detect these lesions when they are curable. While everyone is at risk, those with fair skin, history of excessive sun exposure and sun burns, increased number of moles, and family history of melanoma are particularly prone to acquiring this type of skin cancer. Outdoor and indoor tanning further increase one’s risk of developing melanoma. There is an alarming increase of melanoma among young women, possibly due to increased use of indoor tanning salons in this age group.
One can avoid harmful sun exposure by avoiding the midday sun (11 a.m. to 4 p.m.), using protective clothing and regular sunscreen (SPF 30) application. Sunscreens come in two types — physical blockers and chemical blockers. While they are both composed of “chemicals,” the physical blockers are minerals (such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) that sit on the skin surface and reflect ultraviolet rays, offering better protection. It is important to note that, to offer maximum protection, sunscreen has to be reapplied at least every two hours and every time the skin gets wet.
As in other cancers, prevention strategies are of utmost importance. Routine skin cancer screenings and close surveillance of individuals at high risk for melanoma lead to early recognition, treatment and cure. Individuals with risk factors for the development of skin cancer should have complete skin exams by a dermatologist 1-2 times per year. Additionally, numerous opportunities for free skin cancer screenings exist across the nation.
In collaboration with the Colette Coyne Melanoma Awareness Campaign, doctors from the Mount Sinai Department of Dermatology will be offering a free skin cancer screening at Jones Beach in Wantagh, NY on Sunday, July 27 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The doctor is encouraging beachgoers to take this potentially lifesaving step by coming to obtain a completely free skin exam without the need of an appointment.
Doctors are also available for office appointments yearlong at various offices in Manhattan for skin cancer examinations.
Ahmed Hadi, MD
Department of Dermatology
Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
5 East 98th St., 5th floor
New York, NY 10029
For an appointment with a
Mount Sinai dermatologist,
call: (212) 241-9728
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