Skin cancer can happen at any time of year. It’s easy to forget in winter that Ultra Violet rays are still pouring down on us and on our skin. A clear, sunny day can actually burn skin in the middle of December. In the Southern United States, sunburn in winter is as common as the summer months.
Studies show frequent sunburns in early life leave person more vulnerable to skin cancers. Children who experience frequent sunburns are far more likely to develop skin cancers in later life.
This article is not meant for diagnosis of any medical condition nor advocate or prescribe any specific medication or treatment. Always seek the advice of a licensed physician for proper diagnosis or treatment of any disease or condition.
Types of Skin Cancer
Basal Cell Carcinoma- This is the most common and easily treated form of skin cancer. It does have a high reoccurrence rate – within five years. It is most commonly linked to long-term sun exposure.
The good news is that it is rarely fatal. It can cause damage to the tissues- scarring, damage to bone if not treated promptly.
Melanoma- this is the most serious type of skin cancer. It forms in the cells that produce skin pigment known as melanin. Not only can this occur in the skin cells, but in the eyes and even in the internal organs.
It is most commonly found on the areas of the skin that receive the most sun- face, hands, arms and feet. For dark-skinned patients, it can also occur in nail beds, palms of the hands and the soles of the feet.
Merkel Cell Carcinoma- This skin cancer is increasing worldwide. It often appears as a bluish blotch on the skin and is more common in older people due to long- term sun overexposure. People with weakened immune systems are at a higher risk.
This type of cancer spreads rapidly and is often diagnosed when it has moved beyond the skin into body areas.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma- This is the second most common form of skin cancer after basal cell carcinoma. Long term and frequent intense UV exposure from working outside, frequent tanning and over-use of tanning beds have been noted as causes.
Although it rarely causes death, if left untreated it can cause serious complications from spreading to other parts of the body or from its size.
Actinic Keratosis- This is a lesion that develops from intense or frequent UV rays. It is also known as solar keratosis. It appears as a scaly patch of skin that seems to grow slowly. Older people report this on their skin- faces, neck and arms from years of sun exposure.
There is no guarantee that this will turn into cancer however, it does need to be evaluated to make sure that it isn’t already cancer.
When to See Your Doctor
If you notice any of the following signs on yourself or any family member, seek the advice of your family doctor. There is no need to panic. Early detection and treatment is the largest single effective method in fighting skin cancer.
• Any change in the size, color or shape of a mole.
• A mole that wasn’t there before.
• Sores or a wound that just doesn’t want to heal- this may not be cancer, but it definitely should be evaluated by a licensed physician.
• Any new or “funny-looking” or painful new growth.
• A mole that suddenly starts to bleed or is painful.
• Any of the above changes in the lips, eyelids, fingernails, hand palms, foot soles, anal or vulva region.
• Any nodule or growth that is blue, purple or other color.
• Easily bleeding from minor wounds like shaving or washing.
• Fatigue that just won’t go away and swollen lymph nodes.
• A pearly white or waxy looking bump or growth on fair-skinned people
• A dark brown or black waxy looking bump or growth on dark-skinned people
• A flat, scaly-looking patch of skin that seems to grow. It can be fleshed colored or dark in color. This isn’t a rash.
• A white or dark waxy- looking scar that wasn’t there before.
• A bump or lesion that itches or burns.
• A warty-appearing bump is picked off and it returns.
• Any wart, lesion, mole, scar or bump that becomes hard-skinned, crusty, or begins to “ooze” fluid or bleed.
While this list seems long or slightly overwhelming, any of these changes in skin of any hue should be brought to a doctor’s attention. Insurance or the lack of it should not be an issue over the potential of possibly having skin cancer.
This article is not meant to scare anyone or cause anxiety. It is meant to give information about the types of skin cancer and how to recognize it.
Prevention is mostly common sense- wear protective clothing, sunscreen or sun blocks as needed. Follow all the directions on the lotions used. Limit exposure during the most UV intense part of the day.
Source: Mayo Clinic Staff, “Melanoma,”, Mayo Clinic Website, January 2, 2010
Source: Mayo Clinic Staff, “Merkel Cell Carcinoma,” Mayo Clinic Website, September 13, 2008
Source: Mayo Clinic Staff, “Basal Cell Carcinoma,”, Mayo Clinic Website, April 2, 2009
Source: Mayo Clinic Staff, “Actinic Keratosis,” Mayo Clinic Website, January 5, 2009
Source: Mayo Clinic Staff, “Squamous Cell Carcinoma,” Mayo Clinic Website, August 4, 2009