The best defense against skin cancer is prevention

Skin cancer is the most common kind of cancer in the United States, affecting more than 2 million Americans every year.  It is estimated that one in five Americans will develop a skin cancer in their lifetime.

There are three main types of skin cancer.  Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer, which can be fatal if not treated early.   While melanoma accounts for a very small percentage of skin cancers, it is responsible for the majority of skin cancer related deaths.  Survival of patients with melanoma is directly correlated to the size of the cancer.  If the spot is detected early, before it has spread from the skin, more than 90% of patients will be cured.  This drops to approximately 15% once the cancer has spread.  The number of new cases of melanoma is rising faster than most of the other internal types of cancer, so public education is of the utmost importance.

The other two common skin cancers are collectively known a non-melanoma skin cancer.  The most common skin cancer in general is basal cell carcinoma.  They are rarely fatal, but they can destroy the skin and underlying tissue if not treated.  Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common type of skin cancer.  These are also locally destruction and are rarely can be fatal if not treated.  The majority of non-melanoma skin cancers develop in skin areas damaged by ultraviolet light the sun.  They often start out as actinic keratoses, or precancerous spots, which are treated by Dermatologists to prevent them from turning into cancers.

The best defense is prevention

The best cure for skin cancer is prevention.  Even one blistering sunburn during childhood has been shown to double the risk of developing a melanoma later in life.  So the use of sun protection with sunscreens, sun protective clothing and hats, and avoidance of the sun during peak hours of the day are very important.

We can’t turn back the hands of time.  Regardless of past sun exposure, it is important to continue to protect yourself and see a Dermatologist for annual skin checks.  Many patients do not even realize they have are any potentially harmful spots on their bodies.  Dermatologists can detect potentially harmful spots and treat them early so they do not become a problem in the future.

Please also visit our Skin Cancer Awareness Campaign on Facebook.

Joshua Zeichner is a dermatologist at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City.

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