Cancer of the skin is the 6th most common form of cancer in the United States. Skin cancer will be diagnosed in 1.3 million Americans this year, and 9,600 of those persons will die as a result of this disease. Skin cancer incidence is increasing at the rate of 4% per year, and the southwestern U.S. is the skin cancer hot spot.
There are three types of skin cancer: Basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and malignant melanoma. The latter is the most dangerous form. The first two usually start as a small, firm nodule, or a small grayish red spot, or a red ulcerated, crusty patch of skin, or a crusty wart-like bump. Basal cells and squamosa cells are usually very slow-growing and take several months, or even years to develop. A malignant melanoma, on the other hand, may seem to appear over night. It may be black, brown, red, or shades in between. It may be slightly raised, or wart-like, and it usually has an irregular outline (not round like a mole).
Anyone who spends time outdoors, and especially anyone who has a fair complexion should see a skin doctor annually. For Central Coast residents, remember the fog is no protection. The ultra violet rays that damage skin penetrate clouds and fog and do their damage even in cool weather.
The reason skin cancer incidence is less on the coast is that the cool climate forces us to wear clothes, which cover our skin and protect us. However, the back of the hands, the neck, ears, temples, and face are still exposed to the damaging rays of ultra violet light.
Getting a sun tan provides no protection against skin cancer. In fact, regular sun tanning increases the risk of skin cancer. The tanning reaction of the skin is an attempt on the part of the body to protect itself against the damaging effects of solar radiation. Sun tanning and sunburns cause irreversible skin damage, which increases your risk of getting skin cancer.
To protect yourself, cover your skin. Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts when you are working outdoors. Wear a broad-rimmed hat and cover exposed areas (back of the hands, neck, ears, and face) with sun block lotion, which has a rating of 25 or higher.
If you develop a patch of skin which itches, changes color, is sore, crusty, and resists healing, see your skin doctor. Also if you have a mole, which changes shape or color suddenly, or becomes itchy or sore, see your doctor.
Remember, malignant melanomas are a very deadly, fast-moving type of cancer. They should be attended to immediately on detection. Basal cells and squamosa cells are less aggressive, but also need to be removed promptly.
Finally, protect yourself when you are out-of-doors. Remember, there is no such thing as a healthy tan.