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Are You at Risk for Skin Cancer?

Posted on: May 1st, 2015 by California Skin Institute

It’s interesting how many people still don’t take skin cancer seriously and think that getting cancer is something that only happens to others. It’s this mentality that unfortunately causes people to wait too long before seeking treatment when they notice a strange new mole or skin discoloration.* We’ve helped many patients here at California Skin Institute treat skin cancer over the years, but one thing that never stops surprising our doctors is how long patients usually wait before visiting a specialist!* Even more troubling is how many individuals don’t have annual skin cancer evaluations with their dermatologist or primary care physician, to catch potential problems as early as possible.*

Part of this disconnect comes from lack of attention given to the topic. Cancer of the skin is typically less aggressive than other types of this disease, like breast cancer or prostate cancer, so in the mind of the average individual, it’s just not that big a deal.* Add to that a relatively weak push for skin cancer awareness from non-profits and medical organizations (as compared to breast cancer awareness, for example), and many individuals end up completely in the dark about their risks for developing this potentially deadly disease.*

How Skin Cancer Forms

To better understand this disease, let’s look at how skin cancer forms and how it progresses.* Like all types of cancer, the root cause of skin cancer stems from changes in the DNA of skin cells.* Now, damage to a cell’s DNA is actually a relatively common occurrence.* However, most cells in our bodies will either repair the damage to the genetic material or self destruct.*

With cancer cells, the story is different. Ultraviolet radiation, genetic factors and lifestyle habits can all cause a mutation to develop in cellular DNA. However, the cell cannot repair this damage and instead of dying, it starts to reproduce rapidly and cluster, to become a tumor. Eventually, some cancer cells can reach the lymph nodes and grow into other bodily tissues and organs (something that healthy cells never, ever do).

Types of Skin Cancer

There are several types of skin cancer that can affect an individual, with the most common types being basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas.*

Basal cell carcinoma is the most widespread type of skin cancer, and also has the highest survival rates.* It is rare for a basal cell carcinoma to become lethal.* However, even though survival rates are very high, this cancer can significantly disfigure the skin if left untreated.*

Squamous cell carcinoma also has high survival rates, but is more lethal than basal cell carcinoma.* In fact, approximately 2% of individuals diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma may eventually succumb to the disease if the cancer is allowed to metastasize.*

Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer and accounts for the vast majority of skin cancer deaths in the United States.* In fact, roughly 10,000 are expected to die from this disease in the U.S. in 2015.*

Melanoma forms when DNA becomes damaged in a melanocyte (a skin cell responsible for skin pigment).* These cells can grow rapidly and quickly metastasize to other organs throughout the body.* Such aggressive growth of melanoma is one of the biggest reasons why it’s so important to get regular skin cancer exams, especially when you consider that roughly 2% of Americans are expected to be diagnosed with melanoma in their lifetime.*

Skin Cancer Risk Factors

There are many reasons why skin cancer may develop, but UV radiation from the sun’s rays is by far the biggest culprit.* Spending lots of time in the sun, and especially experiencing sunburns, are the most significant contributors to the development.*

However, other factors can play a role, too.* For example, poor lifestyle habits like smoking and exposure to toxic chemicals in household appliances and building materials can also damage cellular DNA.* Further, genetic factors can play a role, and sometimes skin cancer can develop on parts of the body that are rarely (if ever) exposed to the sun.*

Speaking to Your Doctor

There are many ways to reduce chances of skin cancer; from wearing sunscreen, to applying antioxidant creams.* However, no prevention method will completely eliminate skin cancer risk, and even the healthiest individual may develop this disease at some point in their life.* Therefore, it is vital to work closely with your doctor and set up regular skin cancer exams with a trained dermatologist.*

Skin cancer exams are often very quick, and don’t require any invasive procedures.* Your dermatologist will visually examine your skin and scalp to see if there are any abnormalities, and will set up further testing if any suspicious skin growths and discolorations are present.* However, though the exam is quite fast and painless, it can significantly increase your chances of survival, if you do develop this disease.*

If you would like to learn more about skin cancer or would like to set up a screening with one of our expert dermatologists, please give us a call, or click the scheduling link below!

*Individual results may vary and are not guaranteed.