You’ve Got Skin in the Game
Be on the lookout for signs of skin cancer
Summer is in full swing. While it’s the time of year to enjoy the beautiful days, it’s also important be on the lookout for signs of skin cancer and take steps to protect ourselves from the disease.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, with 1 in 5 Americans developing the disease in their lifetime. In the practice of Carol Rupe, MD, family physician at Roanoke Clinic, the rate of post-summer skin cancer among patients appears at around 20%. Skin cancer from sun exposure makes up the highest number of cases.
It’s important to be aware that skin cancer does not discriminate, Dr. Rupe points out. Unfortunately, skin cancer among people of color may not be caught until later stages. “Skin cancer in people of color is harder to detect because of pigmentation,” says Dr. Rupe. “This population group is also prone to skin cancer in places such as the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, the groin and inside of the mouth. Melanomas also may develop under the nails.”
There are two types of skin cancer: melanoma and nonmelanoma. Nonmelanoma skin cancer can occur anywhere on the skin but is most often found on body parts that receive the greatest sun exposure. “Be alert for areas like a bump that gets irritated and doesn’t go away,” Dr. Rupe says. “A scaly patch can be a precancerous lesion which is very common on the ears, nose and face, and on the scalp of men who are balding.”
Basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, the primary non-melanoma skin cancers, spread only locally and are highly curable with early detection and treatment.
Melanomas are the most deadly form of skin cancer, and most cases can be attributed to exposure to ultraviolet radiation from sunlight. The rate of new melanoma cases has tripled since the 1970s. Unlike nonmelanomas, melanomas can spread throughout the body via the blood system.
Risk factors include blistering sunburn during childhood or adolescence, prolonged exposure to tanning beds, a history of nonmelanoma in you or a family member, the number of moles on your skin, older age, and fair skin or freckles. Melanomas most often appear as moles that are unevenly shaped; have irregular borders; have multiple colors; or show changes in appearance, color, shape or elevation.