Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in New Zealand. While skin cancers can be found on any part of the body, about 80 percent appear on the face, head, or neck, where they can be disfiguring as well as dangerous.
Who gets Skin Cancer and Why?
The primary cause of skin cancer is ultraviolet radiation – most often from the sun, but also from artificial sources like sunlamps and sun beds. Our quest for the perfect tan, an increase in outdoor activities, and perhaps the thinning of the earth’s protective ozone layer are behind the alarming rise in Skin Cancers. Anyone can get skin cancer – no matter what your skin type, race or age, no matter where you live or what you do. Your risk is greater if:
- Your skin is fair and freckles easily.
- You have light-colored hair and eyes.
- You have a large number of moles, or moles of unusual size or shape.
- You have a family history of skin cancer or a personal history of blistering sunburn.
- You received therapeutic radiation treatments for adolescent acne.
- You spend a lot of time working or playing outdoors.
- You live closer to the equator, at a higher altitude, or in any place that gets intense, year-round sunshine.
Types of Skin Cancer
By far the most common type of skin cancer is Basal Cell Carcinoma. Fortunately, it’s also the least dangerous kind—it tends to grow slowly, and rarely spreads beyond its original site. Squamous Cell Carcinoma is the next most common kind of skin cancer, frequently appearing on the lips, face, or ears. It sometimes spreads to distant sites, including lymph nodes and internal organs. Squamous cell carcinoma can become life threatening if it’s not treated. The third form of skin cancer is Malignant Melanoma this is the least common, but its incidence is increasing rapidly. Malignant Melanoma is also the most dangerous type of skin cancer. If discovered early enough, it can be completely cured. If it’s not treated quickly, however, malignant melanoma may spread throughout the body and is often deadly.
Other Types of Skin Growths you Should Know About
Two other common types of skin growths are Moles and Keratoses. Moles are clusters of heavily pigmented skin cells, either flat or raised above the skin surface. While most pose no danger, some-particularly large moles present at birth, or those with mottled colors and poorly defined borders-may develop into malignant melanoma. Moles are frequently removed for cosmetic reasons, or because they’re constantly irritated by clothing or jewellery. Solar or Actinic Keratoses are rough, red or brown, scaly patches on the skin. They are usually found on areas exposed to the sun, and sometimes develop into Squamous Cell Cancer.
Recognising Skin Cancer
Basal and Squamous Cell Carcinomas can vary widely in appearance. The cancer may begin as small, white or pink nodule or bumps; it can be smooth and shiny, waxy, or pitted on the surface. Or it might appear as a red spot that’s rough, dry, or scaly; a firm, red lump that may form a crust; a crusted group of nodules; a sore that bleeds or doesn’t heal after two to four weeks; or a white patch that looks like scar tissue. Malignant melanoma is usually signaled by a change in the size, shape, or color of an existing mole, or as a new growth on normal skin. If all these variables sound confusing, the most important thing to remember is this: Get to know your skin and examine it regularly, from the top of your head to the soles of your feet. (Don’t forget your back.) If you notice any unusual changes on any part of your body, have a doctor check it out.
Choosing a Doctor
If you’re concerned about Skin Cancer, your family physician is a good place to start. He or she will examine your skin at your and can refer you to a specialist if necessary. If you notice an unusual growth yourself you can contact Mr Klein. He is skilled at diagnosing and treating skin cancer and other skin growths. Mr Klein can surgically remove the growth in a manner that maintains function and offers the most pleasing final appearance – a consideration that may be especially important if the cancer is in a highly visible area. If a treatment other than surgical excision is called for, Mr Klein can refer you to the appropriate specialist.
Skin Cancer Treatment
Most Skin Cancers are removed surgically. If the Cancer is small, the procedure can be done quickly and easily, in an outpatient facility or the physician’s office, using local anesthesia. The procedure may be a simple excision, which usually leaves a thin, barely visible scar. If the cancer is large, however, or if it has spread to the lymph glands or elsewhere in the body, major surgery may be required. The different techniques used in treating skin cancers can be life saving, but they may leave a patient with less than pleasing cosmetic or functional results. Depending on the location and severity of the cancer, the consequences may range from a small but unsightly scar to permanent changes in facial structures such as your nose, ear, or lip. Reconstructive techniques – ranging from a simple Scar Revision to a complex transfer of tissue flaps from elsewhere on the body-can often repair damaged tissue, rebuild body parts, and restore most patients to acceptable appearance and function.
Preventing a Recurrence
After you’ve been treated for Skin Cancer, your physician should schedule regular follow-up visits to make sure the cancer hasn’t recurred. Your physician, however, can’t prevent a recurrence. It’s up to you to reduce your risks by changing old habits and developing new ones. These preventive measures apply to people who have not had skin cancer as well.
- Avoid prolonged exposure to the sun, especially between 10 am and 2 pm and during the summer months. Remember, ultraviolet rays pass right through water and clouds, and reflect off sand and snow.
- When you do go out for an extended period of time, wear protective clothing such as wide brimmed hats and long sleeves.
- On any exposed skin, use a sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 15. Reapply it frequently, especially after you’ve been swimming or sweating.
- Finally, examine your skin regularly. If you find anything suspicious, consult a Plastic Surgeon or a Dermatologist as soon as possible.
A & B. Squamous Cell Carsinoma may begin as a red, scaly patch, a group of crusted nodules, or a sore that doesn’t heal.
C. Malignant melanoma is often asymmetrical, with blurred or ragged edges and mottled colors.
D. Small skin cancers can often be excised quickly and easily in Mr Klein’s office.
E. Simple excision usually leaves a thin barely visible scar.
Did You Know
- Non-surgical treatments may achieve dramatic results or enhance your surgical results.
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