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Skin Care

Skin Cancer Detection
By Dr. Jere Mammino
American Osteopathic College of Dermatology
Jul 26, 2004, 22:08

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Keywords: skin cancer detection, basal cell carcinoma, actinic keratosis, malignant melanoma

One of every three cancers diagnosed in the United States this year will be skin cancer, for a total of more than 700,000 new cases. The risk is greatest is summer, because ultraviolet rays from the sun are the main cause of skin cancer.

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 the sun's harmful rays.

Types of Skin Cancers

There are three types of skin cancer. 

Basal Cell Carcinomas are the most common, accounting for 80% of the skin cancers that develop 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 the most lethal, killing nearly 7,000 Americans each year.

Skin Cancer Warning Signs
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 Malignant 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 to the body.  If not treated at an early stage, these fast growing tumors can quickly spread to other parts of the body.

When to consult a doctor

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 A-B-C-D: 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).

Color (varied)
Border (irregular)
Diameter (large)

Skin Cancer Treatment

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.

This article is taken from American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, used with permission.

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The medical information provided in this site is for educational purposes only.  Any topic discussed in this article is not intended as medical advice. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice and shall not create a physician - patient relationship. Consult a dermatologist, if you have a specific question or concern about a skin lesion or disease.
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