Skin cancer: Why early detection is important

Published On: Jun 20 2012 03:13:35 PM CDT   Updated On: Jul 03 2012 01:03:37 PM CDT

By Tracey, Pure Matters

The Skin Cancer Foundation reports that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States with more than 3.5 million skin cancer incidences diagnosed annually. That’s more new cases of skin cancer than the combined incidence of breast, prostate, lung and colon cancer. Perhaps the most interesting fact of all: one in five Americans will develop skin cancer over their lifetime.

The three most common forms of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and melanoma. Basal and squamous are the most common -- and the most treatable. BCCs rarely result in death but if left untreated can be highly disfiguring. Squamous is diagnosed about 700,000 times a year with 2,500 cases resulting in death.

Melanoma, however, can be more serious. Though it accounts for less than 5 percent of all cases of skin cancer, it causes more than 75 percent of skin cancer fatalities. That said, the survival rate is 99 percent if the melanoma is detected early (prior to the tumor penetrating the skin.) It falls to 15 percent when people are diagnosed with an advanced case.

Though skin cancer is the most prevalent cancer in America, it’s also the easiest to cure, if diagnosed and treated early. Self-exams and doctor exams are crucial. Visit your dermatologist annually for a full body check -- and come prepared with a list of any spots or moles that seem irregular.

Keep an eye out for these warning signs of skin cancer:                       

- A skin growth that increases in size and appears pearly, translucent, tan, brown, black, or multicolored
- A mole, birthmark, beauty mark, or any brown spot that:
changes color
increases in size or thickness
changes in texture
is irregular in outline
is bigger than 6mm or 1/4?, the size of a pencil eraser
appears after age 21
- A spot or sore that continues to itch, hurt, crust, scab, erode, or bleed
- An open sore that does not heal within three weeks

The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends doing a monthly self-examination of your skin. Here is a quick how-to guide for self-examinations from the Skin Cancer Foundation:

  1. Examine your face, especially the nose, lips, mouth, and ears -- front and back. Use one or both mirrors to get a clear view.
  2. Thoroughly inspect your scalp, using a blow dryer and mirror to expose each section to view. Get a friend or family member to help, if you can.
  3. Check your hands carefully: palms and backs, between the fingers and under the fingernails. Continue up the wrists to examine both front and back of your forearms.
  4. Standing in front of the full-length mirror, begin at the elbows and scan all sides of your upper arms. Don’t forget the underarms.
  5. Next focus on the neck, chest, and torso. Women should lift breasts to view the underside.
  6. With your back to the full-length mirror, use the hand mirror to inspect the back of your neck, shoulders, upper back, and any part of the back of your upper arms you could not view in step 4.
  7. Still using both mirrors, scan your lower back, buttocks, and backs of both legs.
  8. Sit down; prop each leg in turn on the other stool or chair. Use the hand mirror to examine the genitals. Check front and sides of both legs, thigh to shin, ankles, tops of feet, between toes and under toenails. Examine soles of feet and heels.