Skin cancer risk increases as we age. Knowing everything you can about the disease is very important for early treatment.
Below, we’ll answer some commonly asked questions about skin cancer, what you should expect if you’re diagnosed with the disease and then we’ll take a step back and review some prevention methods.
What You Need to Know About Skin Cancer
Types of Skin Cancer
There are three major types of skin cancers: basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and melanoma.
Most skin cancers are basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma. These cancers should not spread to other parts of the body, unlike melanoma, which makes it the more dangerous of the three.
What You Need to Know About Melanoma
What Is Melanoma?
Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer. It can appear suddenly or develop gradually within an existing mole. This skin cancer tends to spread to other parts of the body.
What Causes Melanoma?
This disease is caused by too much exposure to ultraviolet radiation of the sun or tanning beds. People who live close to the equator have a higher risk of developing melanoma since they are closer to the sun, but that doesn’t mean others are not susceptible to the disease.
Other contributing factors to melanoma include immune system deficiencies and genetics, which is why filling out your family history at the doctor’s office is so important. If your doctor is aware of any family history of the disease, he/she should be more consistent in checking you over at your visits. Don’t rely on your doctor alone though. You are much more aware of your skin than the doctor so you will be able to take notice of any changes that occur.
Who Gets this Disease?
Anyone can get melanoma. With that in mind, there are some signs that may indicate a person has a higher melanoma risk than others:
- You have large or unusual-looking moles or more than 50
- Someone in your family has had or has melanoma
- You have light skin
- You have red or blond hair, or blue or green eyes
- You have had other cancers, such as breast or thyroid cancer
- You have had another form of skin cancer like basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma
- You live near the equator, closer to the sun
What Does Melanoma Look Like?
Changes in your skin is a good way to detect early melanoma. Moles usually appear on the head, neck, upper back, torso or lower legs. If you notice a changing mole or new mole, schedule a visit with a board-certified dermatologist.
One thing to keep in mind is that there could be other causes of changing moles other than melanoma. For example, pregnancy hormones can often affect the appearance of moles. However, it’s still a good idea to have a dermatologist check them out.
Other warning signs of melanoma include:
- Half of the mole doesn’t match the other half, known as asymmetry.
- The edges of the mole are ragged or blurred
- The mole is larger than 6mm in diameter
- The color is not consistent. If the mole is different shades of a color or has dashes of red, white or blue on it, consult your dermatologist
- The mole looks different than it did before in either size, shape or color
Can Melanoma Be Cured?
Melanoma is highly curable as long as it is detected early. Being aware of this disease, taking preventative measures and paying close attention to your skin (and existing markings) so you can notice any changes that occur is vital.
Can Melanoma Be Prevented?
Yes. Being careful about how much sun exposure your body gets and at what time of day is one form of prevention. Below, we’ll talk more about prevention for all forms of skin cancer.
Skin Cancer Treatment Options
Option #1: Surgery
There are different types of surgeries used to treat melanoma, according to agingcare.com. Some of these include:
- Local Excision, which requires taking out the melanoma and parts of the normal tissue surrounding it.
- Lymphadenectomy is a procedure doctors use to remove the lymph nodes and examine them for cancer.
- Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy includes a blue dye that is injected into the patient near the tumor. The dye goes through the lymph ducts and on to the lymph nodes. Whichever lymph node the dye touches first is removed to be examined for cancerous cells. If no cancerous cells are found then the other lymph nodes don’t need to be removed.
- Skin Grafting is used after surgery. Doctors take skin from other parts of the patient’s body and place it over the wound caused by surgery.
Option #2: Radiation Therapy
This treatment requires the use of high-energy x-rays or other kinds of radiation to get rid of the cancer cells or stop them from growing. Radiation therapy can be done in one of two ways—external radiation therapy or internal radiation therapy. External radiation therapy requires an external machine that sends radiation toward the cancer. Internal radiation therapy, however, is inserted directly into or close to the cancer using needles or wires.
Option #3: Chemotherapy
Most well-known for treating many types of cancers, chemotherapy tries to stop the growth of cancer cells by either killing them or stopping the cells from dividing. Chemotherapy is administered differently depending on the type of cancer or stage of cancer that’s being treated.
Option #4: Immunotherapy
Your immune system is stronger than you think. For this therapy, doctors use a patient’s immune system to combat the cancer. This can be done using substances that are made by the body naturally or those made in a lab—either option can help boost and restore the natural defenses of a body to fight the cancer.
Option #5: Photodynamic Therapy
This may sound like something from a movie, but it’s an actual therapy that is used to treat skin cancer. Doctors inject a shot into a patient’s vein and then shine a laser light onto the skin. Once the light begins to shine on the skin, the treatment activates and kills the cancer cells in the body.
Option #6: Topical and Oral Medications
Some seniors can’t withstand the intense treatment typically required to combat non-melanoma skin cancer—the most common in older individuals—or the skin cancer is in a delicate area and can’t be treated directly; with either case, topical and oral treatment can be used.
However, if a patient is dealing with melanoma skin cancer but the cancer is in a delicate spot, oral and topical treatment can be used in the beginning to shrink or attempt to get rid of the cancerous cells. Usually, surgery is still needed after that is done.
Always Practice Skin Cancer Prevention
Whether you’ve been diagnosed with skin cancer or not, you still want to practice these methods of prevention:
- Seek shade whenever possible, especially between the hours of 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM
- Do not use tanning or UV tanning booths
- Wear protective clothing like hats, long sleeves and sunglasses
- Apply sunscreen before you go outside
- Examine your skin every month
- See your doctor each year for a skin exam
Skin cancer is preventable. Make sure you apply these tips to your daily routine and speak to your physician if you notice any suspicious spots on your skin. Furthermore, if you’ve been diagnosed or are, in the future, diagnosed with skin cancer, speak to your physician to understand which treatment option is going to be best for you.
What methods do you use to protect yourself from skin cancer?