Rising skin cancer rates cause concern, caution



A new study shows that 70% of Americans have at least one risk factor for skin cancer. A total of 9,500 Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer every day, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). Over a million Americans live with melanoma. A dramatic increase in the number of skin cancer diagnoses is worrying.

Melanoma is the most serious of the skin cancers. Melanin is the substance that produces the pigment that gives the skin its color. The cells that produce it, called melanocytes, are the cause of melanoma. Melanoma can be considered invasive and non-invasive.

An estimated 196,060 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in the United States in 2021. Invasive melanoma is expected to be the fifth most diagnosed cancer in men and women in 2021.

According to the Mayo Clinic, there has been a marked increase in diagnoses of melanoma in middle-aged women. The clinic believes that using tanning beds when the women were younger helped create skin lesions that contributed to more problems as they got older.

While melanoma is the most dangerous skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common. As the basal cells produce new skin, they push the old cells to the top layer of the skin where they fall. When basal cells produce too quickly, dead skin cells that would normally die and break off continue to grow. The accumulation of these abnormal cells can create cancerous tumors.

Research indicates that the overall incidence of basal cell carcinoma (BCC) increased 145% between 1984 and 2010. The Skin Cancer Foundation (SCF) estimates that 3.6 million cases are diagnosed each year in the United States. However, when caught early, BCC is usually treatable and curable.

Symptoms and how to recognize them

One of the most important ways to recognize possible skin cancer is to look for new or developing irregularities that are appearing on the skin. Specific training could be a warning sign of skin cancer.

The AAD, the Mayo Clinic and other healthcare professionals recognize these developments as possible signals and call them the “ABCDEs” of skin cancer. These letters represent asymmetry, border, color, diameter and evolution.

Asymmetry, or an unusual or irregular shape of a mole or mark, is the first potential sign. An edge of a mole that has become or appears uneven is another signal. When a mole shows differences in color, it should be checked. A large diameter mole could also be a signal. A quarter of an inch or more is of concern. If a stain is changing in appearance or changing in size, shape or color, it should be checked.

Importance of treatment

If the signs of skin cancer are overlooked, treatment may become more difficult. Treatment for basal cell carcinoma is usually successful if started early. It is usually easy to recognize because of the signs that appear on the skin. Discoloration or other symptoms usually stay in one place and damage is slow.

If left untreated, however, cancer cells could migrate to lower levels of tissue. Eventually, other parts of the body could be affected. Treatment methods depend on the type of skin cancer that may progress and the stage at which it is detected.

Preventive measures

Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays can damage the skin and increase the risk of skin cancer. Sunlight is the most common source of UV radiation. For this reason, avoiding sunburn is one of the best ways to prevent skin cancer. This applies to direct sunlight as well as the use of UV tanning beds.

If a person must be in the sun, proper attire, including wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses, can slow the effects of sunlight. A UVA or UVB rated sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 is suggested for usual exposure to sunlight. For prolonged outdoor activities, an SPF of 30 or higher is suggested by the Skin Cancer Foundation.

Not only is it important to take preventative measures to avoid skin cancer, but getting tested is also recommended. The Mayo Clinic advises checking the skin every month for any changes that may appear.

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Omar P. Haqqani is the Chief of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery at Midland Vascular Health Clinics.


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