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Skin Cancer Treatment

Despite well-known risks about overexposure to the sun and warnings about the dangers of skin cancer, Americans continue to spend prolonged periods of time bronzing their skin.  One in five Americans are affected by skin cancer, and the number of young people with skin cancer is increasing.  Though a disturbing trend, people still do not seem to grasp the damage and sometimes fatal consequences resulting from spending extended time in sun. 

Melanoma - the most serious form of skin cancer that kills one in every seven people diagnosed - accounts for just five percent of new skin cancers but more than 75 percent of all skin cancer deaths.  Ironically enough, melanoma is one of the most preventable forms of cancer if understanding how to reduce dangerous sun exposure.  In 2005 alone, nearly 60,000 Americans will be diagnosed with melanoma.  There are two other types of skin cancer besides melanoma, basal-cell cancer and squamous-cell cancer, which must also be recognized early so that early treatment can occur.

Non-melanoma skin cancer treatment will most commonly involve surgery, and tumors can be removed without damaging normal skin.  Other treatment methods include removing the tumor by scraping and heating it or freezing it, which can often be performed under a local anesthetic during an office visit.  Though basal-cell cancer is not life threatening, if left untreated it can grow and spread and cause marked disfigurement. 

The earlier skin cancer is detected, especially melanoma, the better the prognosis is.  There is research suggesting the reported rise in melanoma rates in the U.S. is due to over diagnosis, which has left many clinicians to worry about the study's implications.  The study appeared online Aug. 4, 2005 in the British Medical Journal, but some experts object to the term "over diagnosis."?  Melanoma is considered completely curable if caught early, but if left alone and not biopsied it can become life threatening.

Part of the increase in the rate of melanoma, according to some skin cancer experts, is that diagnosis is occurring earlier, which is the only effective treatment.  When skin cancer goes to the lymph nodes, the chances of survival, regardless of treatment options, becomes just 50 percent.  The rise in incidence of melanoma in the U.S. could also be attributed to more skin biopsies, not more disease. 

There is no great cure or effective treatment method once melanoma has metastasized, so the key is to diagnose it while it's still early and completely curable.  According to the American Cancer Society, if a suspicious growth is caught early and removed, the five-year survival rate can be as high as 98 percent.  Treatment options will depend on the stage of the skin cancer, the type of skin cancer, the size and location of the tumor and the patient's general health.  The chances of recovery are most dependent on the stage and type of treatment used to remove the skin cancer.

There are exciting advances and promising research in the works for skin cancer, including new tests to better detect the spread of melanoma to lymph nodes and can help identify which patients need more than surgery.  Researchers are also working on treatments that, unlike traditional chemotherapy, target only the cancer cells.  An experimental drug called sorafenib is designed to inhibit tumor growth by interfering with a genetic pathway that drives cell division in many cancers. 

Gene therapy is also being studied.  Researchers are trying to determine whether adding certain genes to cancer cells can help combat skin cancer.  A drug tested in skin cancer-prone mice has also shown promise.  Research suggests the drug might eventually help protect people from UV-induced skin cancers.  The drug inhibits proteins that control skin cell growth and activate after exposure to UV light, and the mice that got the inhibitor were shown to have smaller and fewer tumors after UV exposure than mice that did not. 

It is never too late to begin practicing healthy skin saving measures.  By taking a couple minutes a day to get into the habit of wearing a daily SPF and carrying a hat and sunglasses along, these minor adjustments can have a big impact on reducing skin cancer risks.