Skin is the largest organ we have and performs a number of essential functions, including protecting us from environmental hazards, such as heat, cold, injury, and infection. Our skin also stores water and fat, which helps regulate our body temperature.
Because it is such a large organ that is constantly exposed to environmental stressors — especially the sunlight in New Orleans and Louisiana – skin is highly susceptible to developing cancer.
How Common is Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer is the most common cancer there is – affecting more people in the U.S. than all other cancers combined. Approximately one in five Americans will develop the disease at some point in their lives.
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma are the two most common types of skin cancer, with 4 million and 1 million cases diagnosed each year in the U.S., respectively. Almost half of those over the age of 65 will have either basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma at least once in their lives. Fortunately, these two cancers are also the most easily prevented and cured. Although they almost never metastasize beyond the tumor site, they are still a serious disease and should be treated immediately. If left untreated, skin cancer can be quite disfiguring.
Melanoma is a much rarer form of skin cancer – accounting for only 1% of all skin cancer cases – but it is by far the most serious. Melanoma is most likely to afflict light skin but can be found in all races and ethnicities. Melanoma tumors grow quickly and can metastasize to other organs. Early detection and treatment can raise the 5-year survival rate to 98%.
Melanoma usually appears on skin that has been exposed to the sun. However, it can also appear on other areas of the body, in which case the cause is probably due to genetics or another environmental factor.
Other, less common forms of this disease include Merkel cell carcinoma, skin lymphoma, and Kaposi sarcoma.
The Most Common Causes
Skin cancer develops in the epidermis – the outermost layer of the skin – which is composed of squamous cells, basal cells, and melanocytes. When the DNA in these cells is damaged by stressors and is not or cannot be repaired, mutations are triggered that cause the cells to rapidly multiply and bypass apoptosis (normal cell death). These cancer tumors are formed by clusters of these mutant skin cells.
Almost 90% of non-melanoma skin cancer is triggered by exposure to sunlight. Most cases of melanoma are also caused by exposure to ultraviolet light via the sun or tanning beds.
Other causes of or contributors to skin cancer include genetics and/or exposure to toxins and/or other environmental stressors, including a poor diet, toxins, and/or a compromised immune system.
Protecting Your Skin Year-Round
Preventing skin cancer is easier than treating it. However, while taking preventative measures is highly effective it does not completely eliminate the risk. Skin is the largest organ of the human body and is almost constantly exposed to environmental stressors, such as sunlight, heat, cold, infection, and injury.
The following habits will help you avoid skin cancer and/or catch it in an earlier, more treatable stage:
- Avoid the sun, especially during the peak hours of 10 am to 4 pm.
- Use broad-spectrum sunscreen all year round, including during the winter
- Wear protective clothing, including long sleeves and hats
- Protect your eyes with UVA and UVB-blocking sunglasses
- Never use a tanning lamp or tanning bed
- Regularly examine your entire skin – including non-sun exposed areas
- Strengthen your immune system with exercise and a healthy, fruit and vegetable-rich diet
- Avoid foods that cause inflammation, such as sugar and processed foods
- Consult a dermatologist if you see any new suspicious-looking moles or if existing moles change shape, size or color, or if they begin to itch, flake, or bleed.
If you are a patient at Old Metairie Dermatology in New Orleans, our dermatologists will perform a skin examination as part of your routine skin maintenance program.
Effective Treatment Options
If caught early enough, both basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma lesions can be surgically removed in our office. Some smaller and superficial skin cancers may even respond to topical chemotherapy, avoiding the need for surgery. Topical medications are particularly effective at resolving pre-cancerous lesions, such as actinic keratosis. More advanced cases of BCC and squamous cell carcinoma will be referred to a Moh’s surgeon.
Early-stage cases of melanoma that have not metastasized sometimes can be treated with surgery alone. Our office in New Orleans will refer you to a surgical oncologist for possible surgery, and in cases of advanced stages of melanoma, additional evaluation for immunotherapy, targeted therapy, chemotherapy, and/or radiation.
Learn more about melanoma treatment options at WebMD.com.
Your Expert Medical Dermatology Team in New Orleans
If you have noticed that you have a suspicious lesion or just would like a thorough skin examination, our dermatologists have more than 30 years of experience detecting and treating all kinds of skin cancers and precancerous lesions. Find out how Dr. Patricia Farris and Dr. Mamina Turegano at Old Metairie Dermatology can help keep your skin cancer free by contacting us online or calling us at 504.836.2050.
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