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Skin Cancer FAQ's

It is estimated that there are about a million people in the United States diagnosed with skin cancer annually. Although anyone can get skin cancer, the risk is greater for people who always burn, never tan, and are fair with red or blonde hair; green or blue eyed and freckled types have a greater chance of developing skin cancer.

Learn more about it with the following frequently asked questions:

Q.  Is sun exposure the main cause of skin cancer?

A. Long-term exposure to the ultraviolet (UV) radiation sun is the main cause of skin cancer. Artificial sources of UV radiation, such as sunlamps and tanning booths, also contribute to the risk of developing skin cancer.

Q.  What are the types of skin cancer?

A.  TThe most common kinds of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Basal cell carcinoma arises from the basal cells, small round cells found in the lower part (or base) of the epidermis.

SSquamous cell carcinoma begins in squamous cells, which are thin, flat cells that look like fish scales found in the tissue that forms the surface of the skin, the lining of the hollow organs of the body, and the passages of the respiratory and digestive tracts.

Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are sometimes called nonmelanoma skin cancer. Another type of cancer that occurs in the skin is melanoma that arises in melanocytes, the cells that produce pigment. Melanoma usually begins in a mole.

Q.  What are the early warning signs?

A.  The ABCD's of melanoma are as follows:

  • A - Asymmetry (common moles are round and symmetrical)
  • B - Border (skin cancers may have uneven borders)
  • C - Color (watch for varied shades of brown, tan or black and also red, white, and blue)
  • D - Diameter (if a spot is larger than a pencil eraser (6mm or ¼ inch in diameter) it could be trouble)

Q. How does a mole change?

A.  Aside from the ABCD’s, you should watch out for these changes:

  • Size – mole suddenly or continuously gets larger
  • Elevation – a mole that was flat or slightly elevated increases in height rapidly
  • Surrounding skin – skin around the mole becomes red or develops colored blemishes or swellings
  • Surface – a smooth mole develops scaliness, erosion, oozing, crusting, ulceration, and bleeding
  • Sensation – there is itching, tenderness or pain.

Q.  How can skin cancer be prevented?

A.  Whenever possible, people should avoid exposure to the midday sun (from 10AM to 2PM). Keep in mind that protective clothing, such as sun hats and long sleeves, can block out the sun's harmful rays. Also, lotions that contain sunscreens can protect the skin.

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