Protect yourself from sun, know melanoma symptoms

Jun 28 2010 - 10:18pm

Ultraviolet radiation is considered to be the main cause of skin cancers, including basal cell, squamous cell, and melanoma, the most deadly form.

Dr. Jack Lyons, a dermatologist at Ogden Clinic, said basal and squamous cell carcinoma are extremely common in the Ogden area.

Basal cell generally presents itself as a pink or translucent bump on the skin that starts out very small and grows. Squamous cell shows up in a similar fashion, but usually as a red bump. It can also sometimes have a scale or a hard "horn" on the surface, Lyons said.

Melanoma generally presents itself as a growing or changing mole or mole-like growth.

"Any growing spot, especially if it's on the face should be checked, as should pimple-like facial growths or bumps which are not shrinking or improving by about six weeks," Lyons said. "This is because we quite commonly see patients with skin cancers who delayed their evaluation for several months because they mistook the cancer for persistent pimples."

In his practice, Lyons sees precancerous growths and basal cell skin cancers quite commonly in patients in their 30s and occasionally in people in their 20s.

"I do believe that people are taking more precautions with the sun now than they did 20 or 30 years ago. However, I believe our teens and young adults still have quite a bit of room for improvement in this regard."

While skin cancer can be successfully treated if detected early, the five-year survival rate for individuals with regional and distant stage melanomas are 65 percent and 16 percent, respectively, said Dr. William James, president of the American Academy of Dermatology.

"That's why people must be vigilant about protecting their skin from sun exposure and aware of the early warning signs of cancer," James said.

To minimize your risk of skin cancer, the Academy recommends:

  • Use a broad spectrum waterproof sunscreen with at least a 30 Sun Protection Factor or higher. It should be generously applied and reapplied every two hours, even on cloudy days and in the winter.
  • Apply sunscreen when you are out running errands, since small exposures add up.
  • Look for sunscreen containing zinc or titanium oxide.
  • Protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts, pants and a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses provide protection from both ultraviolet A and B rays.
  • Check your body for changes every few months and see your doctor for annual skin exams.

For most people, it takes years to develop skin cancer. Cumulative effects of years of sun damage induces the most common forms of skin cancer, said Ogden dermatologist Dr. Jason Hadley.

However, the development of melanoma may happen a bit faster and is more often associated with sunburns.

Treatment is effective in all forms of skin cancer when caught early. It may include topical chemotherapeutic creams, local surgical excision, local destructive methods, and, rarely, radiation and chemotherapy.

"Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the world and many cases are preventable," Hadley said. "Aside from the benefit of reducing skin cancer, consistent good sun protection has the added benefit of keeping your skin young and healthy."

-- Jamie Lampros

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