Cancer is the defining disease of the current era.
Every year, thousands of people are diagnosed with this malady in one of its many forms. While lots of people fear being diagnosed with one of cancer’s scarier forms such as leukemia or a brain tumour, it is far more likely that they will experience the seemingly benign diagnosis of skin cancer.
However, this form of cancer is far from harmless. The American Academy of Dermatology estimates that approximately 9,940 people will die as a result of the most voracious form of skin cancer, melanoma. Additionally, 137,310 new cases of melanoma are estimated to be diagnosed in 2015.
While these statistics may sound frightening, there are many things you can do to keep yourself healthy and treat these cancers before they become a much more serious problem. The Skin Cancer Foundation, a non-profit advocacy group, has a method they call the ABCDE’s of melanoma. By following through the checklist, you can determine whether or not that odd-looking spot on your skin is cause for concern or just a benign lump.
A – Asymmetry
Draw a single line through the middle of the mole or lump. If the two sides created by this line match perfectly, then this is not a malignant cancer. However, if the two sides are not identical, then it probably time to schedule an appointment with your physician.
B – Border
Benign moles have smooth and even edges. Early melanomas have rough and uneven edges.
C – Colour
Benign moles are one single colour in addition to being smooth-edged. Melanomas are a variety of colours that include shades of brown, black, and possibly even blue or red. Any unusual colour should be treated with suspicion.
D – Diameter
This criteria is a bit less strict but is still useful in self-examination. Benign moles are typically smaller in diameter than malignant melanomas. A general rule here is that if it is larger in diameter than the eraser tip of a pencil, then it may be a problem.
E – Evolving
This criteria is probably the most important of all. Benign moles do not change in size or appearance. Melanomas, on the other hand, change and evolve.
If you have something that you believe is a mole on your skin, observe it over the course of days, weeks, and months. If this mole increases in size, changes colour, or becomes more irregular; then schedule a visit with your physician as soon as possible. This is a likely sign that it is not a simple benign mole.
If any of this has frightened you, do not worry. While all of this may sound quite alarming, this form of cancer is among the most treatable and curable forms of cancer in existence. According to statistics published by the American Academy of Dermatology, the survival rate for melanomas detected in the early stages (i.e. before it begins to spread to other parts of the body like the lymph nodes) is right at ninety-eight precent (98%). Additionally, even if this cancer is discovered in the regional stage (i.e. it is beginning to spread but only to areas local to the initial growth), the survival rate is still approximately sixty-three precent (63%). These statistics are all the more reason you should see a physician as soon as possible when you suspect you may have a problem.
Now what if you schedule a visit with your physician because you suspect you may be developing skin cancer and, upon visiting, your fears are confirmed? While it may seem devastating at first, there is no need to abandon hope. To the contrary, you have an excellent chance of recovery and usually in a very short amount of time. Let’s take a look at the available treatments for skin cancer according to Cancer Research UK:
This is the most common form of treatment for most forms of skin cancer, including melanomas. The surgical procedure is typically very non-invasive and can be accomplished under local anesthetic in one procedure. Several different techniques can be employed based upon factors including the location, size, type, and stage of the cancer. For the vast majority of cancer patients, this is the only treatment necessary.
This treatment is typically only employed when surgical intervention cannot successfully treat the cancer. Situations in which this type of treatment is applicable include cancers that cover a large area of the body, cancers that are in areas difficult to operate on, and cancers that are in the advanced stages of growth. In some situation, radiotherapy is used in conjunction with surgical intervention to prevent cancers from returning after they have been removed.
This form of treatment, while quite common for many forms of cancer, is rarely used in the treatment of skin cancers. When used, it is commonly in the form of chemotherapy creams and is reserved for cancers that are too deep to be treated surgically (usually basal cell carcinomas).
Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)
This is a very new form of treatment that utilises a special form of light to treat skin cancers. Cosmetic outcomes of this treatment are typically much better than those of surgical treatment. However, this specialised form of treatment is only effective against specific kinds of cancer. It has not proved effective against melanomas and other forms of cancer that penetrate deep into the layers of the skin.
With all the alarming news of cancer rates rising and diagnoses increasing, it is important to remember that being diagnosed with cancer is not the end. There are many treatments available for cancer and skin cancer just so happens to be one of the most treatable forms in existence.
If you are worried about developing some form of skin cancer, it is important to perform self-examinations on at least a weekly basis. During your self-examinations, remember your ABCDE’s of skin cancer. If you see a questionable spot on your skin, draw a circle along the edges of the lesion and monitor it over the next week.
If it grows or changes appearance in any way, schedule an appointment with your physician. And most importantly, do not give up hope. Cancer is a very serious disease but it is not without effective treatments and, as said before, a diagnosis of cancer is not the end.