Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, affecting over 1 million people this year in the US alone. It is the number one cause of cancer deaths in women aged 25-30 but can target anyone. The good news is that in most cases, it’s preventable and, if caught early, it’s also curable.
The key is to know how to keep from getting skin cancer and to be aware of the symptoms, said Dr. Ted Benke of Benke Ear, Nose & Throat Clinic in Cleburne.
“There are three major types of skin cancer, “Benke said. “Seventy percent of all skin cancers are basal cell carcinoma, which usually appears as a small raised bump with a pearly appearance. It is most commonly seen on areas of the skin that have received excessive sun exposure. These cancers may spread to the skin around the cancer but rarely spread to other areas of the body.”
He said squamous call carcinoma is also seen on the areas of the body that have been exposed to excessive sun like the nose, lower lip, hands, and forehead. It often appears as a firm red bump or ulceration of the skin that does not heal. Squamous cell carcinomas can spread to lymph nodes in the area.
Melanoma, which represents about five percent of all skin cancers, is less common than the other two, but potentially much more serious because it can spread to other sites in the body, he said. A person’s risk of getting a melanoma increases with age. It is characterized by pigmented or colored lesions in the skin with an irregular shape and border and multiple colors.
Benke said a person is at increased risk for melanoma if a member of their family has had a malignant melanoma or if they have fair skin, freckles, blond or red hair and blue or light-colored eyes.
“You’re also at increased risk if you sunburn easily and have a hard time tanning, because the risk of melanoma is 12 times greater for people with fair skin than for people with darker skin. People who had severe sunburn as a child are also at greater risk or those who have a compromised immune system or are on medication to prevent organ rejection.
“Because the risk of melanoma increases with age, it’s important for people to have a thorough examination of the top of the ears, scalp, face and neck annually. They should also be on alert for sores that don’t heal or new nodules on the skin. If you notice anything unusual, have it checked by your doctor.”
He said the treatments available for skin cancer vary from surgery to radiation to chemotherapy, but in many cases, the lesion is removed in the doctor’s office or done as an outpatient procedure to remove the lesion and check the edges to make sure all the cancer was removed and is then repaired with simple stitches.
“In larger skin cancers, I may take some skin from another body site to cover the wound and promote healing, a process called skin grafting,” he said. “In more advanced cases of skin cancer, radiation therapy or chemotherapy may be used in conjunction with surgery to improve cure rates.”
The good news, Benke said, is that in most cases, skin cancer can be prevented by remembering this simple slogan: Slip! Slop! Slap! … and Wrap.
“This catch phrase will hopefully serve to remind people of the four methods they should use to protect themselves from UV radiation, the main cause of skin cancer,” Benke said. “Slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen, slap on a hat, and wrap on sunglasses to protect the eyes and sensitive skin around them from ultraviolet light.”
For more information or an appointment, call Dr. Benke at 817-641-3750.