Things to Know about Skin Cancers

Almost half of all cancers occur in the skin. The most common type is the basal cell carcinoma, which is seen roughly five times as often as squamous cell carcinomas depending on latitude and individual susceptibility. Both these skin cancers are seen in men more often than in women, and are uncommon before middle age.

Basal cell carcinomas are often smooth, waxy, or pearly bumps, which may exhibit very fine blood vessels in a shiny surface. Some may be crusted, while others form ulcers; one type resembles a scar. When these tumors are small they seldom cause any difficulty and thus may be casually dismissed or entirely unnoticed by the individuals. Squamous cell carcinomas usually appear as red bumps or nodules and may be rough or crusted. They are more noticeable than are basal cell carcinomas.

Skin cancers caused by sun exposure are highly unlikely to spread to internal organs through the blood or lymphatic systems. Thus the mortality rate from these tumors is extremely low. They are capable of expanding locally, however, and this can pose a serious problem around the eyes, ears, lips and nose. Skin cancers usually grow slowly, and some may be present for years before treatment is sought. Treatment should not be delayed unnecessarily, however, since larger tumors are more difficult to remove, tend to leave deeper scars, and are more likely to recur.

Any suspicious bump, sore, or other skin lesion should be examined by a physician, preferably a dermatologist. Derma­tologists spend more time looking at skin lesions than other physicians, and are able to identify skin cancers in order to avoid overtreatment or undertreatment. It should be remembered that skin cancers usually begin as very minor bumps. Many people are certain that their skin cancers are not malignant-until the pathology report comes back.

Any competent dermatologist or surgeon can treat skin cancers. Several surgical methods as well as X-Rays are used with very good results.

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