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Skin cancer stats are staggering — article by Scott Keith

Posted Feb 24 2010 12:00am

You’ve probably grown up with a mole or two. You may have one on your back, tummy or face. The mole on your face may give you a look of character. Often these are called “beauty marks.” But a suspicious-looking mole, or dark spot on your skin, could be cancer. It’s important to analyze any strange looking growth on your body, even if you have to reach for the magnifying glass to get a better look. While some skin cancers are slow growing, the more serious melanoma can metastasize, or spread.

Dr. Edgar F. Fincher and his wife, Dr. Helen Fincher, are dermatologists at Fincher Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery in Beverly Hills, California. The two provide services including Mohs surgery to remove skin cancers and cosmetic and laser surgery. In an e-mail interview with Men and Health: It’s a Guy Thing, Dr. Edgar Fincher says skin cancer is a growing problem in the United States. Statistics are stunning. “There are more than one million cases diagnosed every year. One in five Americans will be diagnosed with one form or another of skin cancer. One in 55 will be diagnosed with melanoma.”

According to Fincher, the most common type of skin cancer is basal cell carcinoma, which often grows slowly and rarely spreads through the body. The second most common type is squamous cell carcinoma. The chance of this cancer spreading is low, especially when diagnosed and treated early. That leaves melanoma, highly treatable when diagnosed and treated early. But if melanoma spreads, there are limited treatment options; melanoma cure rates are low.

Skin cancers can take on a variety of appearances. Says Fincher, “Non-melanoma skin cancers commonly present as enlarging pearly bumps that then bleed or scab as they get bigger. They can also appear as pimples or sores that come and go, always in the same spot, or blemishes that never quite heal; a non-healing sore. Many precancerous lesions (actinic keratoses) and some superficial forms of skin cancer can also appear as red and scaly or crusted spots that persist or recur over time.” The dangerous melanomas come from pre-existing moles or, perhaps, new dark spots or moles. If you’re looking for potentially serious moles, or are worried about melanoma, consider the ABC system. According to Fincher, “A = Asymmetry. Normal moles should be symmetric from side to side, not irregular. B= Border. Normal moles should have sharp, discrete borders or edges. Moles with jagged or irregular edges may be abnormal. C = Color. Normal moles should be uniformly colored, usually one even color. Multi-colored (blue, black, grey, red, brown) may signal an abnormal mole. D=Diameter. As a general rule, moles should be less than the size of a pencil eraser (7-8mm). This alone does not signal a dangerous mole, but is taken into consideration with the other features.”The bottom line is to see your dermatologist if a mole changes color, size, or becomes irritated or bleeds.

When you think about skin cancer, you might imagine all those years you spent soaking up the sunshine. Fincher says, “Sun exposure (ultraviolet light) is the number one cause of skin cancer. About 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers are attributed to sun exposure.” While your doctor can check for moles, self-examination is vital. Skin cancers, including melanoma, can show up anywhere on the body, including feet, toes, between toes and fingernail beds.

And if you really must get a good dose of daily sunshine, change your behavior to protect your skin.Wear hats (broad brimmed to protect the neck and ears), wear sunscreen and reapply every two hours. Stay out of the mid-day sun and plan outdoor chores during the morning or evening. Fincher’s advice: “Don’t stop having fun in the sun, but be smart about it.”

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