Time can stand still when you hear the diagnosis of “cancer” from your physician. For many this is a shocking and concerning time, yet for some even the diagnosis is not enough to change dangerous behaviors. Skin cancer is one of those cancers. Not only is it cancer but it can be a wake-up call to take your skin protection practices to the next level. Luckily for some, they can have their cancer cells removed right in a physician’s office while others are not so lucky. Regardless, not taking more precautions to prevent skin cancer or recurring skin cancer is just foolish and can be deadly.
Skin cancer is cancer. It’s not just a weird marking on the skin or a rash, its uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells. It occurs when unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells triggers mutations, or genetic defects, that lead the skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors. Most skin cancer can be specifically traced to UV rays and tanning beds. Your skin can also produce precancerous cells, that when treated early enough may be completely removable. This goes to show how important early detection can be when it comes to your skin.
Our skin is our largest organ. When the skin is impacted by cancer, it isn’t always as easy as cutting or freezing it off. Like many diseases it can turn from bad to worse. Skin cancer can start on any area of the body, and then its cells can spread to other parts of the body which is referred to as metastasizing. When cancer cells in the skin metastasize they can sometimes travel to the bone and grow there or other places. When cancer is diagnosed and named for where it starts, you hear people down play “just have skin cancer,” but that’s because they don’t talk about the dangers or it being bone cancer, brain cancer, etc. When someone says they have bone cancer, they aren’t as likely to downplay it. Regardless, cancer is cancer and all cancer needs care, concern and compassion.
The most common skin cancers we hear about are: Basal Cell, Squamous Cell and Melanoma. Basal cell cancer is cancer that starts in the lowest layer of your skin. Squamous cell cancer starts on the top layer of your skin. Melanoma starts in the melanocytes that are the “color-making” cells of the skin (melatonin). Any of these can start as mild changes to your skin. They can be new growths, changes in moles, rashes or precancerous lesions. According to www.webmd.com, “an estimated 40-50% of fair-skinned people who live to be 65 will develop at least one skin cancer. Learn to spot the early warning signs. Skin cancer can be cured if it’s found and treated early.”
When it comes to spotting the early warning signs it is best to learn all you can about your skin. Take time to look over your skin, note where you might have moles or concerns. Always ask your doctor to check your skin at your yearly preventive visits and if you notice anything concerning before then, give them a call. You may be referred to a dermatologist who specializes in skin cancer who may be able to better asses and treat any abnormalities.
As mentioned there are different ways to remove suspicious and or pre-cancerous cells. You can expect a biopsy test and/or other testing to be sure that the cancer has not spread and that there are no traces left behind. Having anything of this sort removed should be a wakeup call and not a free pass to just head back out in the sun unprotected.
According to www.skincancer.org, “More than 5.4 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer were treated in over 3.3 million people in the U.S. in 2012. More people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year in the U.S. than all other cancers combined. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70. Precancerous cells affect more than 58 million Americans. The annual cost of treating skin cancers in the U.S. is estimated at $8.1 billion; about $4.8 billion for non-melanoma skin cancers and $3.3 billion for melanoma.” These are big numbers; we can do our best to stay out of these by caring for our skin year round.
Avoid direct sunlight, wear sunscreen and sun safe clothes. Wearing UV protected sunglasses are a start. Take it further by talking to your healthcare provider if you have any signs of being more predisposed to skin cancer or if you have other limitations or precautions that you should use. We can’t live each day in fear of what may happen, but we can empower ourselves and protect ourselves to stay as healthy as we can. Your skin is important to your overall health and you are important to so many people. Take care of your skin, because skin cancer is cancer.