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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Skin Cancer and Aging - A Must Read

I hope I don't sound like I'm no fun, always harping on this or that, don't eat that, exercise, exercise, exercise!  But I realized a long time ago that if you don't take care of the only body you'll ever have, you certainly won't be having fun.  Ask my niece if having skin cancers removed from her shoulder and face was fun.  Or my friend who had one removed from her nose recently.  She didn't enjoy her black eye and the lovely stitches at all.  However, both were extremely grateful that their skin cancers weren't melanoma.

So let's talk about the various types of skin cancer.  You should examine your skin frequently and look for changes in moles or for new skin irregularities that might pop up.  It is advisable to have a dermatologist examine your skin once a year as well.  There are five things to look for that might point out a cancerous spot.
1.  The mole or skin lesion is asymmetrical.  If you drew a line through it, the two sides wouldn't be equal.
2.  The border of the lesion is irregular.  Moles tend to have nice, smooth borders.
3.  The lesion has two or more colors.
4.  The diameter of the lesion is bigger than a pencil eraser.
5.  The lesion keeps changing.

There are three types of skin cancer; squamous cell, basal cell and melanoma, the worst.  Squamous cell cancer is the second most common type of skin cancer.  If you have had it once, you have an increased chance of it reoccurring.  Squamous cell carcinomas are slow growing and treatable when detected early.  They may appear as a red bump that bleeds occasionally or a scaly, crusty spot and can appear anywhere on the body, even in the mouth.


Basal cell carcinomas can look like a waxy bump, a scar or a scaly brown patch.  It may bleed or form a depression in the center.  Basal cell carcinomas appear most often on areas exposed to the sun like the face and neck.  You can often see blood vessels running through it.  (See picture.)


While melanoma is the leading cause of cancer deaths, it is treatable if detected early.  Like the other types of skin cancer, melanoma can occur anywhere but shows up most often in areas commonly exposed to the sun.  It often looks like a mole.  Notice that the border is irregular, it has different colors and it is asymmetrical.    


It is important to keep in mind that early sunburns in children do the most damage and can show up years later as cancer.  While UVB rays burn the skin, UVA rays penetrate the skin and cause the damage.  Buy sunscreen that protects against both UVB and UVA rays.  If nothing else, keep in mind that sun damage is the main cause of aging in your skin.  If you want your face to wrinkle and sag, making you look 60 when you are only 30, skip the sunscreen.  AND remember that tanning beds are just as bad because they have UVA rays!


Have a happy summer but take care of yourself!

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