Knowing the Risk Factors for Skin Cancer

in Health & Wellness

Skin malignancies are the most common cancers in the United States. They are responsible for more than half of all new cancer cases. With those kinds of statistics, you may want to know when should a simple mole or brown spot become worrisome? With longer summer days and the lure of gardening or simple walks in the sun, here are some tips to guide you.

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Skin malignancies are the most common cancers in the United States. They are responsible for more than half of all new cancer cases. With those kinds of statistics, you may want to know when should a simple mole or brown spot become worrisome? With longer summer days and the lure of gardening or simple walks in the sun, here are some tips to guide you.

Risk factors for skin cancer of the head and neck are:

  • Sun exposure, especially with a history of severe sunburn in the past
  • Tanning bed exposure
  • History of immunosuppressive medication
  • Prior radiation of the head and neck
  • Positive family history for skin cancer.

Basal Cell Carcinoma is the most common type and most prevalent. These rarely spread to other areas and generally 100 percent curable with surgery.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma is the 2ndmost common type and these are slightly more aggressive than the Basal Cell Carcinoma. They can spread to other areas, but it is uncommon especially if caught early.

Malignant Melanoma is the most lethal type and can occur more on your trunk and limbs. The aggressiveness of melanoma is determined by the depth of the lesion. Therefore, it is important to have a portion removed versus undergoing what is called a “shave biopsy.”Melanomas can have a very unpredictable course and may spread to distant organs.

Skin cancer usually presents as abnormal growth on the skin. This growth can appear warty, crusty spot, ulcer, irregularly shaped mole, or a sore. It may or may not bleed. Usually, it is painful or uncomfortable. If you have a preexisting mole, any changes to the characteristics of that spot such as: raised or irregular border, change in color, increase in size, itching, or bleeding; are warning signs. Sometimes, the first sign of melanoma is an enlarged lymph node.

The first step to diagnosing any type of skin cancer is evaluation and a biopsy if warranted. Many basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas can be removed surgically by Moh’s surgery performed by a dermatologist or by a general or facial plastic surgeon. Tumors with nerve involvement, lymph node involvement, or of large size are not suitable for Moh’s surgery. They require a multimodality approach to treatment with formal resection and adjuvant radiation or chemotherapy.

The best defense for skin cancer is preventative. Wearing protective clothing such as hats, long sleeve shirts, and applying sunscreen is imperative. Avoid sun exposure at the highest UV time, which is between 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. If you have a lesion that you are concerned about, make sure to ask a provider to look at it. Have regular follow-ups if you have already had skin cancer or if you have a strong family history of cancer. Make sure you pay attention to your body, keep an eye on any unusual spots or lesions, and seek medical help when something doesn’t feel right.

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Author: Dr. Angie Song, MD, Otolaryngologist

Dr. Song is an otolaryngologist, treating patients with complications, diseases, and disorders of the head and neck – including the ears, nose, and throat (ENT). A veteran of the U.S. Army, she earned her medical degree at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences in 1993. She completed her residency at Madigan Healthcare System and Fitzsimons Army Medical Center. She retired from the Army as a Major.

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