Cancer is a scary thing, especially when you can see it on your skin.
Our skin is our largest organ, it protects our insides from the outside, regulates our temperature, excretes waste and lets us feel our surroundings.
Our skin is also a good delivery method for some medications since the digestive tract is avoided.
We get most of our vitamin D from the sun through our skin. When ultraviolet (UVB) rays from the sun reaches our skin, a chemical response takes place turning a pro-hormone into the previtamin D3 which is processed in our liver. The kidneys then turn it into the active form of vitamin D our bodies need. Vitamin D is necessary to for our bodies to absorb calcium.
The UVB rays that are necessary for our survival, are the same rays from the sun that causes skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers. It is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells damaged most often from ultraviolet rays from the sun.
Types of Skin Cancer
There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.
Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are non-melanoma skin cancers and are the easiest to cure with early detection, but if allowed progress can result in disfigurement or death.
Both basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas start in the epidermis (top layer) of skin. Both are usually found in areas that are most exposed to the sun like your face, neck, hands, arms or legs. The only way to tell the difference is with a biopsy, since they look similar.
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common of all skin cancers. It is slow growing and usually does not spread to more than the surrounding tissues.
Squamous cell carcinoma is also slow growing, but has more of a tendency to spread to surrounding tissue and the blood stream to your lymph nodes.
They may start out as a small, pale, waxy, lump, or a red firm lump that may bleed or crust over. Any sore that doesn’t heal within a few weeks should be looked at by a doctor.
Melanoma is the most aggressive skin cancer and thankfully the rarest. Melanoma forms in the pigment cells called melancytes and can be found in areas that are not exposed to the suns UVB rays. Often found on the face, torso and legs. Melanoma is fast growing and can metastasize, spread to other areas of the body or organs through the blood stream and lymph system.
Melanoma is often found by a change in the size, shape, color or feel of an existing mole. A new, black or abnormal looking mole. It may be flat or raised and may not hurt.
Skin Cancer Self Exam
The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends that you inspect your skin, once a month from head to toe.
This self examination will alert you if you find any new or changing lesions, spots, freckles or moles. Using the A, B, C, D, and E chart above to spot suspicious spots.
You will need a bright light, a full length mirror and a hand held mirror, two chairs, a body map and a pencil.
[visit http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/early-detection/body-map to download a body map.]
Melanoma Stages and Treatment
If the biopsy of a tumor finds it to be cancerous, the stage it is in will determine the treatment.
Tumors in situ are not yet invasive and often times will be removed with the initial biopsy.
Tumors in stages 1 and 2 may become invasive to surrounding tissue and can be up to 4mm thick with or without ulcerating.
Surgery and radiation are the best treatment options.
Stage 3 the cancer cells have entered the blood stream and traveled to the lymph nodes.
Stage 4 the cancer has metastasized (spread) to other organs usually the lungs, liver and brain.
Treatment for these stages includes lymph node removal, radiation and immunotherapy.
Immunotheraphy uses high doses of biologic antibodies, interferons and interleukins already present in our bodies to stimulate the immune system and kill the cancer.
Other than cancer, our skin can exhibit beginning growths, and pre cancerous spots. Most are benign, like pimples, warts, skin tags and liver spots and don’t require treatment unless they start changing.
Once you are diagnosed with skin cancer, the chances of it reoccurring are significant.
Both basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas are usually small enough to be frozen off with liquid nitrogen or Mohs surgery. Mohs surgery is the surgical removal of microscopic layers of the skin cancer site. Each layer is frozen and examined for the presence of cancer cells. Layers are dissected and examined until no more cancer is found.