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Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month

Written by Devin C. Flaherty, DO, PhD, Valley Health Surgical Oncology

Quick Facts

Malignant melanoma, along with basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, are the three most common types of skin cancer. Melanoma remains the most dangerous as it aggressively spreads to other organs in the body. The American Cancer Society estimates that approximately 87,000 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in 2017, and rates of diagnosis have been rising over the past 30 years. Melanoma most commonly occurs on the chest and back in men, and on the legs in women.

What to Watch For

The most effective way to watch for melanoma and other skin cancers is regular skin evaluation by a medical practitioner. Patients need to pay close attention to any new skin lesions or moles, or established moles or freckles that are changing in the following ways:

  • Development of asymmetric borders
  • Pigment changes
  • Increases in diameter.

Other clinical signs of potentially dangerous skin lesions include itching or bleeding of a known freckle or mole.

Treatment

The most common and effective treatment for melanoma, basal cell, and squamous skin cancer is excision, which is where a provider will use special tools to remove the lesion(s) from the cells.

Melanoma requires a wider excision, and referral to a surgical oncologist is often necessary. Your provider might also recommend surgical biopsy of lymph nodes because when melanoma spreads, it travels in the lymphatic system towards the body and other organs. Systemic therapy may be used to treat advanced stage melanoma that has spread to the lymph nodes or other organs. Immunotherapy is a rapidly evolving treatment in the field of melanoma that may provide patients enhanced and prolonged responses.

Prevention

Limiting environmental exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays is the most important practice to prevent the development of melanoma. The sun, tanning beds, and sun lamps all transmit UV rays, and protecting your skin from the damaging effects of UV rays can be accomplished through the use of sun screen (high SPF), protective and covering clothing, and hats. Establishing routine care with a dermatologist affords patients regular screening and early detection of skin cancers.

Reference: The American Cancer Society - www.cancer.org