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Skin Cancer

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While skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, many cases are easily preventable by limiting exposure to the sun’s harmful rays and avoiding indoor tanning. Basal cell and squamous cell are the most common skin cancer types and highly curable if caught early. Texas is expected to rank fifth in the nation for newly diagnosed cases of melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer.


  • Forty to 50 percent of Americans 65 or older will have basal cell or squamous cell skin cancer in their lifetime.
  • In 2014, an estimated 5,081 melanoma cases are expected to be diagnosed in Texas, and approximately 668 deaths.
  • Those who use indoor tanning beds are 2.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, and 1.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma.

Risk Factors 

  • Ultraviolet (UV) Light Exposure: Sunlight is the main source of UV radiation.
  • Indoor Tanning: Sun lamps and tanning beds emit UV radiation, which can cause skin damage, and in recent studies have been linked to melanoma.
  • Family History: Those with a family history of skin cancer may face an increased risk for the disease.
  • Fair Skin: People with fair skin are at a higher risk of developing skin cancer, especially fair-skinned individuals with freckles and/or blue eyes and red hair. However, everyone is at risk of developing skin cancer and should take precautions. In fact, though melanoma is less frequently diagnosed among African Americans, Latinos, and Asians than Caucasians, it is more frequently found in late stages and is often fatal for these populations. Everyone should seek regular skin cancer screenings with a dermatologist.

Symptoms and Signs 

The most common warning sign of skin cancer is a change in the surface of the skin. It is important to have any mole that has changed checked by a dermatologist. The ABCD rule can help guide you when checking your skin.

  • A = Asymmetry: One side of the mole is different from the other in size, shape, color, or thickness.
  • B = Border: The edge or border of the mole is not smooth.
  • C = Color: The color of the mole contains various shades of tan, brown, or black.
  • D = Diameter: Skin cancer melanomas are usually larger than 6 millimeters in diameter, but they can be smaller.

Tips for Prevention 

  • Limit Exposure: Avoid being outdoors in the sunlight for too long, particularly between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when UV light is strongest.
  • Protect Your Skin: Long-sleeved shirts and long pants or skirts are the most protective. Use a broad-spectrum (protects against both UVA and UVB rays), water-resistant sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher on areas of skin exposed to the sun. Reapply every two hours or according to the product label. Water-resistant sunscreens need to be reapplied every 40 or 80 minutes, according to the product label. FDA rules on product labeling prohibit sunscreen from being labeled as “waterproof,” “sweat proof,” or “sunblock.” Use sunscreen on hazy days or days with light or broken cloud cover because UV light still permeates.
  • Wear a Hat: A hat with a wide brim can protect areas exposed to the sun’s rays, such as the neck, ears, eyes, forehead, nose, and scalp. Straw hats may allow UV rays through, so choose a hat with a tight weave.
  • Wear Sunglasses: Wrap-around sunglasses with UV absorption provide the best protection for the eyes and the skin around the eyes. Look for sunglasses labeled as blocking UVA and UVB light.

Treatment Options 

Basal cell and squamous cell cancers can often be completely cured by fairly minor surgery or by using medicine on the skin. The type of treatment depends on the size, location, and type of cancer. For certain squamous cell cancers with a high risk of spreading, surgery might be followed by radiation or chemotherapy. After a decade with no new skin cancer drugs, in 2011, the FDA approved ipilimumab, used to treat inoperable melanoma that has spread to other areas of the body, and vemurafenib which treats later stage melanoma.

Sources: American Academy of Dermatology, American Cancer Society, American Melanoma Foundation, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Cancer Institute, Texas Cancer Registry, and The Skin Cancer Foundation 

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