Cancer: When It’s Skin Deep, and Deadly
By Martin Brown
Just ask Sally Cahill. “I had a rash that developed on my upper chest, just a couple of inches below my shoulder. I thought it was an irritation from a new sports bra I had been wearing. But I thought it was strange that on my other shoulder there was no irritation at all. I ignored it for weeks but in spite of using some cortisone cream at night that darn spot just kept hanging in there. Fortunately I mentioned it at the office one day to a co-worker and she suggested that I get it checked out.”
Two weeks later Sally got the news from her doctor that what she thought was just a passing sore spot was really a squamous cell carcinoma. Typically curable when caught early, but potentially lethal if ignored over a long period of time.
Sally, 34, single, and a lover of all things outdoors was not a sun worshiper, just someone who would work in a community garden on Saturday, play a softball game on Sunday, and swim in a girlfriend’s pool for fun and exercise every chance she got. “I rarely used sunblock because I always thought that I’d just be in the sun for an hour or less but I know that I’d go way beyond that and just not bother to put any on.”
Of course, now Sally has a different point of view. She uses a sunblock that protects against both UVB and UVA rays. She puts it on an hour before going out into the sun and never uses a product below an SPF 30 or 45. “Now that I take some precaution I could kick myself that I didn’t do so years ago. I guess everyone always assumes that skin cancer happens to someone else. That’s nonsense. All of us are potential victims and while I’m okay now, I’ve got a small scar to remind me that overexposure to the sun can be deadly.”
Cancer, the very word itself can give you chills. Your natural tendency is to ignore articles that discuss any form of cancer. Resist that tendency. Knowledge truly is power—and when it comes to cancer, it can be a lifesaver. Here are some simple facts you need to know about skin cancer.
Three Types of Skin Cancer
Melanoma, the most serious of those three is curable but only if stopped in time. Fortunately it is the most identifiable of all skin cancers. It looks like a mole that has uneven, asymmetrical borders. It’s usually larger than a pencil eraser, and it can have varying shades of black, red, brown, white or even blue. It can be a new mole or grow out of an existing mole.
Basal Cell Carcinoma is the most frequent form of skin cancer and appears as a small reddish, pink, or white bump. It tends to bleed and ooze and then will heal itself after staying open for several weeks. In time it will return to the same spot or appear in a new area. Basal cell is the least lethal form of skin cancer. That does not mean you should ignore a suspect spot that you find. Ignored long enough any skin cancer can become lethal.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma was the type found on Sally Cahill. It appears as scaly red patches, open sores, elevated growths with a central depression or a thick wart like growth with asymmetrical borders that also have a tendency to bleed, and then crust over.
Skin Cancer Prevention Tips
- Forget the tanning booth. Just don’t go there.
- Use sunblock, of course, and remember to reapply it after swimming and reapply after sixty minutes in the sun.
- Don’t sunbath during the peek hours of sunlight, 11 AM to 2 PM.
- Do a self-skin cancer exam at least once a year. Obviously a spot under your eye you’ll look at every day, but one under your arm, behind your knee, or other overlooked area are far less obvious, but no less dangerous. In fact, set a regular date, like, say, the first day of spring, for example and give yourself a thorough self-exam.
- When and if questions do arise call a dermatologist. I you get the “we’re not seeing new patients for three months” routine, tell the receptionist that you have a spot that looks like a basal cell carcinoma, for example, and they will fit you in or get an immediate referral to a doctor that is seeing new patients.
If you’ve read this far you’re armed with some important information. Now go out and enjoy the day, and as Sally would happily tell you, “Don’t forget to bring your sunscreen.”
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