Learn about Skin Cancer
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the world, and it accounts for over 75% of all cancer diagnoses worldwide. It is usually diagnosed in people who are between the ages of 45-54, a small frame of time, but it can be found in people of almost any age. Studies have shown that you have a higher risk of skin cancer (or any cancer) if one or more close relatives were also diagnosed with the disease. There are two types of skin cancer: melanoma and nonmelanoma. Melanoma is usually more aggressive and usually starts in pigmented skin like a mole or freckle, but it can be nonaggressive and appear in skin with normal pigmentation as well. It is usually, but not always, curable as long as it hasn’t spread to the bones, brain, or any other organ. The good news is the two most common skin cancers are rarely life threatening: nonmelanomas basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are slow spreading cancers that are easily detected.
However, it is not guaranteed that you will get skin cancer just because someone in your family has it as well. There are several risk factors to consider when calculating your approximate risk for skin cancer, including geography, race, and how much time you spend in the sun. Skin cancer is the only cancer that is usually visible while it is still curable, which is one reason it has one of the highest cure rates of any cancer disease. Skin cancer occurs when an abnormal cell in the outer layer of your skin is present and replicates, making it cancer.
The symptoms of skin cancer are fairly predictable. Usually, the first warning sign of skin cancer presents itself as a change in size, color, or shape of an existing mole or skin growth. Similarly, a skin lesion or wound that won’t heal may also be cancerous. Melanoma can present itself a small, dark spot with uneven borders. It may be elevated or scabbed over. It may also be present in a cluster of bumps in the skin that are dark and shiny.
Treatment for skin cancer depends on the severity of the skin cancer as well as whether or not it has spread to other parts of the body. Surgery is usually the go-to treatment to remove the entire melanoma so that the cancer cannot spread throughout the body. There are also other treatments that use chemicals or synthetic proteins that are injected into your bloodstream. These treatments are called chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy. Chemotherapy uses medicine that stops the growth of cancer cells. It has many side effects and can be grueling for the patient. Similarly, immunotherapy uses synthetic proteins designed to travel to the cancer and block the function that allows it to grow new cancer cells. Target therapy uses medicine that stops cancer from growing by blocking activity on the cellular level. Targeted therapy is only used in patients who possess a specific gene mutation called BRAF. Targeted therapy is not effective in patients without this mutation.