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Recognizing Skin Cancer

Skin cancer has become the most common form of cancer in the United States.  According to the American Cancer Society statistics, one American dies every 68 minutes from melanoma, the deadliest form of cancer.  More than one million new cases of skin cancer are expected in 2005, and while prevention is extremely important, recognizing skin cancer early and receiving treatment can help save lives. 

There are three types of skin cancer "“ squamous cells, basal cells and melanoma.  Melanoma is not as common as the other two major types of skin cancer, but it is the deadliest form and is being seen in much younger people.  Alarmingly, skin cancer has also become the leading form of cancer among young women ages 25-29.  If educated about recognizing skin cancer early, immediate treatment can allow melanoma, as well as other forms, to be highly treatable, thus reducing the rates of diagnoses and deaths.

Because studies continue to indicate"�?despite repeated warnings against the dangers of excessive sun exposure"�?that many young Americans continue to tan, skin cancer risks must be better communicated more effectively.  In an August 2005 issue of the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, a national survey revealed that 31.7 percent of Americans had been sunburned in the past year. 

The study also confirmed a correlation between age and sunburns, with 60 percent of young adults reporting a burn in the previous year, compared to just seven percent of adults 65 and over.  Because a long latency period between sun exposure and the negative effects that can result can be avoided for years, young adults may not be able to fully absorb the real dangers of skin cancer. 

Depending on how deeply the tumor has penetrated when the skin cancer is diagnosed will determine how great the risk for a fatal outcome is.  Because a younger age group may not be able to fully weigh the dangers of skin cancer risks, the American Medical Association voted to push for a federal ban on allowing anyone under 18 to use indoor tanning salons, and while several states have parental consent laws for teen indoor tanning, none have banned it. 

Recognizing skin cancer or signs of it can be life saving.  For people at greater risk for skin cancer "“ those with a lesser degree of pigmentation or who have a family history of skin cancer "“ should be especially aware of changes.  Pigmented moles are a predictor of the risk of melanoma, and the greater number present, the higher the risk.  One third of melanomas arise in pre-existing moles, so recognizing changes in appearance has a significant impact on treatment outcomes. 

Being able to determine the history and appearance of the lesion over time also helps determine the diagnosis, which is why it is so important that recognizing skin cancer risks are noted.  By using what is referred to as the "˜ABCD' approach "“Asymmetry, Border, Color, Diameter - recognizing skin cancer can be easily managed.  Asymmetry refers to the lesion's uneven shape, opposed to a round shape, Border refers to the edge of the lesion appearing irregular instead of smooth, Color refers to the surface having a various color that can range from very pale to a dark brown to black coloring and Diameter refers to if the size of the lesion appears larger than 6 mm, which is a warning sign.

Other notable ways of recognizing skin cancer is the presence of bleeding, burning or itching.  Not all unusual moles or changes in them will indicate skin cancer, but it could be a warning flag to doctors to either take a biopsy to see if there is microscopic spread, or schedule follow-ups with the patient to see how it progresses.  Recognizing skin cancer early, along with continuing to communicate the necessity of taking precautions, can help reduce the number of skin cancer victims that is affecting a greater number of Americans every year.