Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States, and it's on the rise. One in five Americans WILL develop skin cancer by age 70. It's also a leading cause of death, killing over two people in the U.S. every hour. But there's good news: With early detection, it has a 99% survival rate, and it's one of the most preventable cancers.
What is Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer is the abnormal growth of skin cells. The most common skin cancer cause is long-term exposure to UV radiation from the sun or tanning beds. There are three types of skin cancer:
Basal cell carcinoma:
This is the most prevalent form of skin cancer, accounting for around 80% of all occurrences. It usually appears as a small, slow-growing, flesh-colored, or brownish bump or spot on the sun-exposed skin of the face, chest, shoulders, neck, or back.
Squamous cell carcinoma:
This is the second most common type of skin cancer, accounting for about 20% of all cases. It usually appears as a firm, red bump on the sun-exposed skin of the face, neck, hands, or arms. Every year there are nearly 2 million new cases of squamous cell carcinoma.
This skin cancer is the most severe type, accounting for about 1% of all cases. It looks like a mole that has changed in size, color, shape, or feel or has started to bleed. It can occur anywhere on the body, but it most often appears on the chest and back in men and on the legs in women. Melanomas can also occur on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and under the fingernails or toenails.
The risk for melanoma increases with age, with the average diagnosis at age 65. Melanoma cases have increased significantly between 2012 and 2022. The Skin Cancer Foundation reports an increase of 31 percent in annual diagnoses. According to the Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center, around 30% of cases start with an existing mole.
Although experts show diagnoses decreasing in 2022 by 4.7%, they expect the death rate to increase by 6.5%.
How Does Skin Cancer Start?
All skin cancer starts with mutations, or abnormal changes, in the DNA of skin cells. These changes occur in the genes that control how your cells grow and divide. The most common cause of skin cancer is long-term exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or tanning beds.
The first signs of skin cancer are usually a new mole or a change in an existing mole. It can also show as a new growth, a change in color or size of current growth, or a sore that won't heal. It's important to monitor your moles and see a dermatologist if you notice any changes.
Who is at Higher Risk of Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer is more common in certain groups of people. For example, people with a history of sunburns have a higher risk. Also, people with fair skin, blue or green eyes, and red or blond hair are more likely to develop skin cancer because they have less melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color.
Melanin protects the deeper layers of skin from UV damage. Besides physical appearance, those with a family history of skin cancer are also at risk.
According to The American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD), having five or more blistering sunburns between ages 15 and 20 increases the risk of melanoma by 80% and non-melanoma skin cancer by nearly 70%.
Certain types of skin cancer are more common in certain ethnic groups. Basal cell carcinoma is more common in Hispanics and Asians than in other groups. Squamous cell carcinoma is more common in Hispanics than in other groups. Melanoma is more common in whites than in other groups.
What are the Symptoms of Skin Cancer?
The most common symptom of skin cancer is a new growth or lump on the skin that doesn't go away. Other symptoms can include:
- Change in an existing mole, such as an increase in size, change in color, or change in shape
- Sore spots or lesions that don't heal
- Patch of skin that is red, pale, or puffy
- Firm, painless bump
- Change in the texture of the skin
It's essential to monitor your skin and see a doctor if you notice any changes.
How is Skin Cancer Diagnosed?
A skincare diagnosis is common. The AAD reports that 9,500 people are diagnosed in the U.S. daily with skin cancer.
Your diagnosis will start with a physical exam of the skin. The doctor will order a biopsy, which is a small tissue sample from the spots or lesions, that will be sent to a laboratory for analysis. The results can take a few days.
If the biopsy shows that you have skin cancer, the doctor will order more tests to determine the cancer stage. The stage is a way to describe how far the cancer has spread. A standard blood test for skin cancer is the LDH test. This screening looks for high levels of LDH; a substance released when cancer cells die.
How is Skin Cancer Treated?
Treatment for skin cancer depends on the type, size, and location. It can range from simple surgery to remove the cancerous growth to more aggressive treatments, such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and immunotherapy.
Surgery is one of the most common treatments for skin cancer. The surgeon will remove the cancerous growth and a small amount of healthy tissue around it. The type of surgery depends on the size and location of the cancer.
This treatment uses high-energy x-rays to kill cancer cells. It can treat skin cancer that has spread to nearby lymph nodes or other body parts. Your doctor may order radiation therapy after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells.
Chemotherapy can treat skin cancer that has spread to other body parts. This treatment aims to eliminate cancer cells with the help of medications. Oral or intravenous injections are the most common forms of administration.
This therapy, which uses medicines to boost the immune system's effectiveness, destroys cancer cells by enhancing the immune system. It can also treat advanced skin cancer that has spread to other body parts.
This therapy uses a combination of drugs to target and remove cancer cells. It may treat skin cancer that has metastasized to other parts of the body.
The best way to prevent skin cancer is to avoid sun exposure and wear sunscreen. The AAD recommends using a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, applying it 15 minutes before sun exposure, and reapplying it every two hours.
Wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and a hat can also help protect your skin from the sun.
If you have a history of skin cancer, see a doctor for regular skin exams. The AAD also recommends that people with a history of skin cancer should have a full-body exam every year and a skincare exam every three months. Although regular self-exams to check for skin cancer can help, only half of all melanomas are detected without a dermatologist.
People with a history of skin cancer are also at a higher risk of developing other forms of cancer, such as melanoma. It's essential to be aware of skin cancer's signs and symptoms and see a doctor if you notice any changes in your skin.
Take control of your health and be proactive. Know the answer to important questions like:
- How does skin cancer start?
- What does skin cancer look like?
- What are the signs of skin cancer?
The answers to these questions could save your life.
For help with what to know about skin cancer, speak with a physician. At Antidote Health, you can use our app to connect with a medical professional that can answer your questions and direct you to resources specific to your needs. Take the first step toward a healthier, more secure future by exploring the Antidote Health Insurance plans or signing up for Telehealth Services.
Download the Antidote Health app today!