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Health beat: Skin cancer awareness

Published 5:03pm Wednesday, June 5, 2013

By Charles Knupp, MD

May is national skin cancer awareness month. The various types of skin cancer together account for about 50 % all cancer cases in the United States each year. The American Cancer Society estimates there will be more than 1 million new cases of basal cell or squamous cell cancers each year in the United States. Malignant melanoma is expected to develop in about 70,000 people each year and its incidence is increasing. About 11,500 deaths are expected from all forms of skin cancer combined (8,650 from melanoma and 2,940 from squamous cell cancer). Most of these skin cancers are caused by sun exposure. The good news is that death rates from skin cancer are lower than many other types of cancer because these cancers are easier to detect early compared to other types of cancer. Awareness of how to reduce the risk of developing skin cancer and awareness of the warning signs of skin cancers is important for prevention, early detection and early treatment to prevent death or other complications of these cancers.

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common skin cancer. This type of skin cancer usually does not spread or cause death but can cause damage and scarring if not removed early. Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common skin cancer. This type of skin cancer can spread to other body organs and cause death. These cancers look like sores that do not heal. Precancerous skin lesions called actinic keratoses may develop into squamous cell cancer over time and if removed will prevent the change to squamous cell skin cancer in those lesions. Malignant melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. This type of cancer usually begins as a dark mole but begins to change, unlike normal moles on the skin. Awareness of warning signs helps to alert you or your physician that further evaluation is needed. Early detection of these cancer improves the chance of cure.

What are the early warning signs of skin cancer? The ABCDE rule can be be a guide to helping remember these warning signs:

A is for Asymmetry – one half of a mole does not match the other half

B is for Border – the edges of a mole are ragged and not smooth

C is for Color – the color is not the same all over

D is for Diameter – a mole is more than the size of a pencil eraser

E is for Evolving – a mole is changing in size, color or shape, oozes or bleeds

If you find a flesh colored sore that is not healing or a mole that seems unusual, you should have this evaluated by a physician. You should check your own skin to know the pattern of moles, freckles and other skin spots. A skin examination should be performed by your primary physician as part of your health checkups. You may be seen by a dermatologist who is a specialist in skin disorders. If the lesion may represent cancer, removal of the lesion should occur to determine if it is cancer and is removed completely to prevent further problems.

Skin cancer screenings are held yearly in many locations, especially for individuals with sun exposure during work such as farmers and fisherman. Skin cancer awareness programs are available locally as well. The Marion L. Shepard Cancer Center is sponsoring a “Knowledge is Power” program on May 9, 2013 at 5:30 pm in the cancer center featuring Dr. Eric Howell, a dermatologist with Eastern Dermatology, P.A. about cancer awareness. To attend this program, please call Kristi Fearrington at 975-4308 to register.

What can you do to prevent skin cancer? Avoid tanning beds. Reduce exposure to the sun during midday and wear clothing to protect from exposure and sunburns. Zinc oxide cream may be used on the nose and other sensitive areas as a sunblock. When in the sun, use sunscreens at least SPF 15 or greater. Apply these lotions every 2 hours to be sure the sunscreen has not washed off when swimming or sweating. With these tips, you can enjoy being outdoors and still know you are protecting yourself from harm.

Charles Knupp, MD is an oncologist at the Marion L. Shepard Cancer Center, a department of Vidant Beaufort Hospital and Medical Director of Regional Medical Oncology for Vidant Medical Group.

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