What You Should Know About Skin Cancer

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Skin cancer is rarely painful so be vigilant about checking your skin for changes such as a new growth, a sore that doesn't heal or a bleeding mole.

Skin cancer is rarely painful so be vigilant about checking your skin for changes such as a new growth, a sore that doesn’t heal or a bleeding mole.

Skin cancer is a very common type of cancer in the United States. The main cause of skin cancer is the sun. Sunlamps and tanning booths can also cause skin cancer. Anyone can get cancer, but people with fair skin that freckles easily are at greatest risk. Skin cancer may be cured if it is found before it spreads to other parts of the body.

Types of Skin Cancers

There are three types of skin cancers. Two types, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma , grow slowly and rarely spread to other parts of the body. These types of cancer are found mostly on parts of the skin exposed to the sun, like the head, face, neck, hands, and arms, but can happen anywhere on your body. The third and most dangerous type of skin cancer is melanoma. It is rarer than the other types, but can spread to other organs and be deadly.

Melanoma can occur anywhere on the body. In men, melanoma is often found on the trunk (the area from the shoulders to the hips) or the head and neck. In women, melanoma often develops on the arms and legs, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Melanoma Risk Factors

  • Unusual moles.
  • Exposure to natural sunlight.
  • Exposure to artificial ultraviolet light (tanning booth).
  • Family or personal history of melanoma.
  • Being white and older than 20 years.
  • Red or blond hair.
  • White or light-colored skin and freckles.
  • Blue eyes.

Checking for Skin Cancer

Check your skin once a month for things that may be cancer. Skin cancer is rarely painful. Look for changes such as a new growth, a sore that doesn’t heal, or a bleeding mole. Also, check moles, birthmarks, or other parts of the skin for the “ABCDE’s.” ABCDE stands for:

A = Asymmetry (one half of the growth looks different from the other half)

B = Borders that are irregular

C = Color changes or more than one color

D = Diameter greater than the size of a pencil eraser

E = Evolving; this means the growth changes in size, shape, symptoms (itching, tenderness), surface (especially bleeding), or shades of color.

See your doctor right away if you have any of these signs.

Sources National Institutes of Health Senior Health; National Cancer Institute