Skin cancer is the most prevalent of all cancers. Its main cause is over exposure to sunlight, especially sunburns.

A patient’s family history is also an important risk factor. In the treatment of any skin cancers, early detection and removal is the best defense. Most skin cancers are preventable. As sun would seem to be the main culprit, the most effective protection is sun avoidance.

The three most common types are:

Melanoma

Melanoma is the most serious and deadly type of skin cancer. Melanoma develops in the cells that produce melanin — the pigment that gives your skin its color. Melanoma can also form in the eyes and, rarely, in internal organs, such as the vagina or spinal cord.

Although melanomas make up the smallest percentage of all skin cancers, they cause the greatest number of deaths. That’s because they’re more likely to spread to different parts of the body. And the incidence of melanoma is on the rise. By 2010, we expect to see 1 person out of 50 in the United States develop melanoma.

The exact cause of all melanomas isn’t clear, but exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight or tanning lamps and beds greatly increases the risk of developing melanoma. Genetics also play a role.

Avoiding excessive sun exposure may prevent many melanomas. Melanoma can be successfully treated if it is detected early.

Dr. Klein and her staff have an interest in melanoma and a strong desire to catch the disease early in their patients by doing thorough skin exams and patient education. Patients are taught to look for the ABCDE’s of melanoma:

  • Asymmetry
  • Border changes
  • Color Irregularity
  • Diameter change/Different from other moles
  • Evolving (changing)

Klein Dermatology and Associates has also invested in equipment to be able to help screen high-risk patients more effectively via the use of mole mapping.

Young and old people are diagnosed with melanoma. We are seeing many patients who are in their early twenties being diagnosed. You should be familiar with the key melanoma risk factors.

An annual full skin exam is the best way for your dermatologist to help you identify skin cancers in an early stage when they are the most treatable.

Key Melanoma Risk Factors

Family history of melanoma — Having two or more close relatives who have had this disease is a risk factor because melanoma sometimes runs in families. About 10 percent of all patients with melanoma have family members who also have had this disease. When melanoma runs in a family, the family members should be checked regularly by a doctor.

Dysplastic nevi — Some people have certain abnormal-looking moles, called dysplastic nevi or atypical moles that may be more likely than normal moles to develop into melanoma. Most people with dysplastic nevi have just a few of these abnormal moles; others have many. Dysplastic nevi are more likely than ordinary moles to become cancerous. The risk of melanoma is greater for people with a large number of dysplastic nevi. The risk is especially high for people who have a family history of both dysplastic nevi and melanoma.

History of melanoma — People who have been treated for melanoma are at a high risk for developing a second melanoma.

Weakened immune system — People whose immune system is weakened by certain cancers, by drugs given following organ transplants, or by AIDS are at increased risk of developing melanoma.

Many ordinary moles (more than 25) — Because melanoma usually begins in the melanocytes of an existing mole, having many moles increases the risk of developing this disease.

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation — Experts believe that much of the worldwide increase in melanoma is related to an increase in the amount of time people spend in the sun. This disease is also more common in people who live in areas that get large amounts of UV radiation from the sun. UV radiation from the sun causes premature aging of the skin and skin damage that can lead to melanoma. Artificial sources of UV radiation, such as sunlamps and tanning booths, cause skin damage and an increased risk of melanoma.

Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common form of cancer, with about a million new cases estimated in the U.S. each year. Basal cells line the deepest layer of the epidermis. The sun is responsible for over 90 percent of all skin cancers, including BCCs, which occur most frequently on the sun-exposed areas of the body: face, ears, neck, scalp, shoulders and back.

Basal cell carcinoma can usually be diagnosed with a simple biopsy and is fairly easy to treat when detected early. However, 5 to 10 percent of BCCs can be resistant to treatment or locally aggressive, damaging the skin around them, and sometimes invading bone and cartilage. When not treated quickly, they can be difficult to eliminate. Fortunately, however, this is a cancer that has an extremely low rate of metastasis, and although it can result in scars and disfigurement, it is not usually life threatening.

We make sure to offer prescription cream treatments such as Aldara for superficial BCCs which can be treated in many areas of the body without the need for surgery as an alternative to all patients.

In addition, Dr. Klein is aggressive about prevention by using regional prescription cream treatments, such as Efudex or Carac, for precancerous lesion, called actinic keratoses.
An annual full skin exam is the best way for your dermatologist to help you identify skin cancers in an early stage when they are the most treatable.

Squamous cell carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common form of skin cancer, with over 250,000 new cases per year estimated in the United States. It arises in the squamous cells that compose most of the upper layer of the skin.
Most SCCs are not serious. When identified early and treated promptly, the future is bright. However, if overlooked, they are harder to treat and can cause disfigurement. While 96 to 97 percent of SCCs are localized, the small percentage of remaining cases can spread to distant organs and become life-threatening.

Most cases of squamous cell carcinoma are caused by long-term overexposure to the sun. Tumors appear most frequently on the sun-exposed face, neck, bald scalp, hands, shoulders, arms and back. The rim of the ear and the lower lip are especially vulnerable to these cancers.

SCCs may also occur where skin has suffered certain kinds of injury: burns, scars, long-standing sores, sites previously exposed to X-rays or certain chemicals (such as arsenic and petroleum by-products). In addition, chronic skin inflammation or medical conditions that suppress the immune system over an extended period of time may encourage development of the disease.

Occasionally, squamous cell carcinoma arises spontaneously on what appears to be normal, healthy, undamaged skin. Some researchers believe that a tendency to develop this cancer may be inherited.

An annual full skin exam is the best way for your dermatologist to help you identify skin cancers in an early stage when they are the most treatable.