May is National Skin Cancer Awareness Month. With over 5 million cases diagnosed in the United States each year, skin cancer is by far the most common cancer. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of their lifetime.
Fortunately, skin cancer is also one of the most preventable forms of cancer. Approximately 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers and 85 percent of melanoma cases are associated with exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, the only international organization devoted solely to education, prevention, early detection, and prompt treatment of the world’s most common cancer. By sharing facts about the dangers of unprotected exposure and encouraging people to check their skin for warning signs, lives can be saved.
Skin cancer occurs when there are abnormalities in the cells that make up the skin. There are several types of malignant skin cancers. Two main types are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Basal cell carcinoma is a slow-growing cancer found in the base of the epidermis that accounts for about 90% of all skin cancers. It seldom spreads, but if left untreated can invade bone and other tissues under the skin. Squamous cell carcinoma is found on the surface of the skin. It can be more aggressive, can grow deep below the skin, and spread to distant areas of the body. A third type of skin cancer, called melanoma, begins in the cells that produce pigment in the skin. This type is less common, but more serious. However, if caught early, there is a nearly 97% chance for cure.
Since its inception in 1979, The Skin Cancer Foundation has always recommended using a sunscreen with an SPF 15 or higher as an important part of a complete sun protection regimen. Sunscreen alone is not enough, however. Below is a list of skin cancer prevention tips:
– Seek the shade, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
– Avoid skin burns.
– Avoid tanning and never use UV tanning beds.
– Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
– Use a broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
– Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
– Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens should be used on babies over the age of six months.
– Examine your skin head-to-toe every month.
– See your physician every year for a professional skin exam.
At the Cancer Treatment Center at Hazleton, external beam radiation therapy (EBRT) is used in the treatment of skin cancer. EBRT is a painless and noninvasive treatment for skin cancer, damaging cancer cells and their ability to multiply. During treatment, high-energy X-rays are delivered to the cancer cells with a linear accelerator (LINAC). Radiation is very damaging to the cancer cells but is well tolerated by the surrounding normal cells. Also, radiation penetrates only a very short distance into the skin, so that internal organs can be completely spared from its effects.
Patients treated with external beam radiation therapy receive a certain number of daily radiation treatments usually over a period of four to five weeks. Treatments are outpatient and usually take about 15 minutes. Side effects are generally minimal, and most patients return to routine activities immediately after each treatment.