Skin cancer is the most widely occurring type of cancer worldwide with up to 3.5 million cases being diagnosed annually in the United States alone. One in five Americans develops skin cancer in his/her lifetime. Skin cancer is a tumor growth in the epidermis that generally classified based on the type of skin cell as following: basal cell cancer (BCC), squamous cell cancer (SCC) and melanoma. The single largest contributing factor to the high prevalence of skin cancer is over-exposure to UV rays from the sun or sun-beds, followed by consumption of tobacco products and genetic affinity.
Mortality rate with skin cancer is low compared to many other cancers, such as those originating in the stomach, colon, and lungs. Melanoma has a higher mortality rate, between 15 – 20 percent when compared with 0.3 percent for non-melanoma skin cancer, but an early diagnosis makes the treatment easier and non-life threatening.
Changes to the skin tone and color, skin ulceration, skin patches that do not heal and change to existing moles are the first symptoms that can be associated with skin cancer. Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is most often mistaken for a sore that does not heal; usually presenting itself as a smooth and pearly bump on the sun-exposed skin. Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) appears commonly as a red thickened patch that scales so often, sometimes dome shaped with firm hard nodules, with ulceration and bleeding. Melanoma usually is more aggressive than other types of skin cancer. It is typically observable as appearance of new mole or changes to existing moles accompanied with pain, itching, and ulceration.
Treatment depends on various factors: specific type of cancer, age of a patient, location of the cancer, and whether the cancer has recurred. Topical chemotherapy may be recommended for large superficial BCC, whereas it may be inadequate for invasive BCC or invasive SCC. Surgical intervention may be adopted with a younger person with BCC, whereas radiation therapy or no treatment at all will be advisable for an elderly frail man. Low-risk skin cancer unlike melanoma is treatable by radiation therapy, photodynamic therapy, topical chemotherapy, cryotherapy and curettage. Melanoma most often requires further surgical procedures and is poorly responsive to other treatments.
Few sunscreen lotions are known to be carcinogens and release harmful chemicals into the skin. Though most sunscreens primarily screen UVB, but may let through UVA which is the primary cause for melanoma. Careful choice and application of sunscreens are necessary to avoid further skin complications.
It is advisable for people at risk of skin cancer such as those with prolonged exposure to sun from thin ozone layer regions and those prone to high tobacco usage to get themselves diagnosed for skin cancer at least once a year and consider necessary life style changes. Early diagnosis increases the chances of a full recovery from skin cancer, though the possibility of recurrence does exist.