Just because we aren’t showing as much skin in these winter months doesn’t mean we can neglect our skin. It is important to stay on top of your skin care and on the lookout for signs that there is a problem — especially symptoms of cancers.
Actinic keratoses are one of the earliest signs of sun-damaged skin. They are technically considered pre-cancerous. They are small, scaly spots most commonly found on the face, ears, neck, lower arms and backs of the hands, but can occur on the legs, back, lips, scalp or any sun-exposed area. They may have a pinkish color and feel like sand paper. Some individuals have sensitivity in the affected areas. Treatment methods vary from cryotherapy (freezing with liquid nitrogen), topical therapy with medicated creams, dermabrasion, curettage (scraping) and photodynamic therapy and laser surgeries. Treatment is recommended because actinic keratoses can progress into skin cancer. Sunscreen is, of course, advisable and can be preventative.
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common and benign type of skin cancer. It appears frequently on the head, neck and limbs (sun-exposed) but can occur in any area on the body. Although generally slow growing, BCC can become locally invasive. They generally do not metastasize to distant sights. BCC can appear as a pimple, non-healing sore or bump and/or sore. The cancer can go below the skin and invade local nerves and bone/cartilage causing extensive damage. It is best to catch these early and surgical excisions in generally curative in over 95 percent of cases.
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common type of skin cancer. It can look and behave much like basal cell carcinoma, but it has a slightly higher risk of metastasis. Metastatic behavior is much more common in immunocompromised persons (i.e. HIV positive and transplant recipients). When detected early and treated, the cure rate is more than 95 percent.
Malignant melanoma (MM) is one of the most potentially deadly forms of skin cancer. It begins in the melanocytes (skin cells that make melanin/pigment). MM usually presents itself as black or brown lesions, but it can appear in various colors. MM may appear suddenly or begin in or near a pre-existing mole. It can metastasize, so early detection is very important. There is a genetic predisposition to MM. First degree relatives of those whom have had MM should be checked as well. People with atypical moles, which may run in families, or a large number of moles, are at higher risk for developing MM. Individuals should become familiar with their moles, and we encourage spouses to check each other as well. Excessive sun exposure is the most preventable cause of MM.