Skin Cancer: What you need to know
SKIN Cancer is a common, usually low-grade cancerous growth of the skin. There are more new cases of skin cancer per year than lung, breast, prostate and colon cancer combined. While skin cancer typically remains isolated to the skin, it can metastasize (spread to other body areas). In general, skin cancer begins from cells that are normal skin cells, but then transform into those with the potential to reproduce in an out-of-control manner. In many instances, these changes can be caused by long-term exposure to ultraviolet radiation found in sunlight.
The three most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. Melanoma, the type of skin cancer that begins in the pigment-producing cells in the skin (known as melanocytes) is the type of skin cancer most likely to metastasize.
“Of the three main types of skin cancer we see in our clinic, we see melanoma the least frequently,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nicholas Logemann, of the Cutaneous Oncology Clinic at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. “With melanoma, a lesion smaller than the size of a pencil eraser could give rise to cancerous cells that can spread throughout the body, and possibly lead to death. The other two types are much less likely to do that. In the end, the key to a good prognosis in all skin cancer is early detection.”
And if early detections reveals one of the three types of skin cancer? “The Cutaneous Oncology Clinic at Walter Reed provides high-quality care to patients diagnosed with skin cancer,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nicole Cassler. “Online resources, such as the Skin Cancer Foundation, are also available to provide general guidance to service members and beneficiaries who want to know more about skin cancer, and possible treatments.”
While scientists are still uncovering exactly why cancer occurs, Logemann stated that several risk factors are known to predispose people to skin cancer. “Persons with lighter skin are certainly more vulnerable to getting skin cancer. However people need to understand that anyone – regardless of skin color – can get skin cancer,” he said. “Someone with lighter skin who spends, or has spent, long periods of time exposed to sunlight is particularly at risk. This is often the case for our military population and why screening for skin cancer is particularly important in active duty or retired military persons. Also, people should be aware of any family history of skin cancer as, sometimes, skin cancer and particularly melanoma can run in families.”
Logemann provided some advice for detecting skin cancer. “In general, people should be aware of the moles and bumps on the body,” he said. “While it takes a physician to diagnose skin cancer with certainty, many skin cancers are initially detected by patients themselves or a loved one who noticed a new mole or bump. In general, moles, spots, lesions or bumps on the skin that continue to grow or bleed spontaneously should be examined by a health care provider.”