Skin Cancer Term Paper

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Skin cancer [...] disease, its diagnosis, how it is treated, the different forms, and the causes of the disease. Skin cancer is a growing problem in society because so many people misunderstand it. It is also the most common form of cancer, so more needs to be done to educate people about the dangers of skin cancer to help control the disease and its spread.

In 1993, it was estimated that 700,000 new cases of skin cancer would be diagnosed (Sherry 81), and every year the numbers get larger, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, a worldwide group working to treat and prevent the disease. In addition, "About 41,600 Americans were diagnosed with malignant melanoma in 1998, and 7,300 died from the disease" (Goff 28). These numbers have increased dramatically since 1930, and it seems as more Americans have fun in the sun, they will pay later when skin cancer attacks. There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Each one has slightly different characteristics, but they are all dangerous, especially if left untreated.

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer. It usually occurs in men over 40 years old, and rarely occurs in blacks. These cancers are usually small and oval-shaped, and sometimes red or pink colored. They are often waxy and hard, and they are usually removed surgically, which cures about 95% of cases. If these cancers go untreated, extensive surgery may be needed or even radiation treatment (Sherry 83-84). These cancers affect men more often than women because men tend to be employed in more outdoor occupations with more exposure to the sun, the main cause of skin cancer. In addition, these cancers usually occur in the area of the face, especially the ears and mouth (Helm 21).

Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common form of skin cancer. These types of cancers mostly affect the same population as basal cell, but the appearance is different. These cancers are usually rough and red, and can be crusty or an open sore. Squamous cell can grow and spread quite quickly, and it can attack deeper tissues in the skin. Surgery is also the most common form of treatment for this type of cancer. The surgeon removes the tumor, and surrounding skin to make sure it does not spread any further. Surgery cures about 90% of patients, and the remaining ten percent may have to have chemotherapy to halt the rapid spread of the disease (Sherry 84). This form of cancer results in about 2,300 deaths every year, and they can occur just about anywhere on the body (Helm 21).

Finally, melanoma is the third most common form of skin cancer, but it is becoming increasingly prevalent, and many scientists expect it to reach epidemic proportions if the public does not become more aware of it, and the dangers of exposure to the sun. It is the most deadly form of skin cancer. It occurs in skin cells that have pigment, and this form of skin cancer often attacks younger patients than the other two. It also attacks both men and women, and rarely occurs in Asians or blacks. It also seems to run in families, but scientists do not know why. It also seems to be more prevalent in those with blonde or red hair, have freckles in certain areas, and suffered at least three blistering sunburns before the age of twenty (Sherry 86). Author Sherry notes, "Any person claiming two of these factors runs a melanoma risk that is 3.5 times greater than that of the general population; three or more of these factors increases the probability to 20 times the average risk" (Sherry 86). This cancer also seems to be prevalent in those patients who have a large number of moles. These melanomas resemble moles, but are different in several ways. They are asymmetrical, uneven in color, are usually larger than the size of a pencil eraser, and their edges are indistinct or blurry (Sherry 86). If the moles are removed early enough, 95% of melanoma patients face an excellent prognosis. However, if the melanoma has spread, the patient can face a far less favorable prognosis. Melanomas are measured in stages, from Stage I to Stage IV, and if the cancer has progressed to Stage IV, the patent may have only a five percent success rate (Sherry 86-87). Surgery is used to remove the cancer and surrounding skin cells. Chemotherapy can be used in advanced cases, but these types of cancers seem to be quite resistant to chemotherapy, so most patients perform self-examination often. This type of cancer results in at least 6,800 deaths per year, and it can also occur anywhere on the body (Helm 21).

Early detection is the key to surviving all three cancers, and the best source of early detection is self-examination. Most experts recommend a full body examination be performed by everyone about every three months. If any skin changes or moles are noted, then the patient should see a physician. Changes include: "a change in a mole, a sore that does not heal, a skin growth that increases in size, and a spot that continues to itch, hurt, scab" (Editors). Self-examination is the best form of early diagnosis because the patient is most familiar with their own body and their own skin (Editors). Every part of the body should be examined, including the head, scalp, and soles of the feet, where many cancers can go undetected. Many experts use the "ABCD rule" in looking for growths. This rule states, "If a growth is found, apply the ABCD rule: A for asymmetry, B for border irregularity, C for color (a suspicious growth will have a mottled appearance) and D. For diameter (a size greater than that of a pencil eraser is cause for concern)" (Goff 28). In addition, new diagnosis tools have been developed that are hand held and magnify the skin, making it easier for the physician to see skin cancers and detect subtle changes. These tools for diagnosis, called "dermoscopy" are used by a variety of dermatologists and doctors around the world, but have not caught on yet in the United States for some reason (McGovern 770). Diagnosis of the disease can be done on sight with some of the forms, but the most reliable form of diagnosis is a biopsy performed by a physician. Unfortunately, studies indicate that people with non-melanoma types of skin cancer may face a greater risk of developing other forms of cancer, so self-examination is increasingly important to detect skin cancers, and other forms of cancer that may develop ("Non-Melanoma Skin Neoplasia").

Clearly, one of the main causes of skin cancer is exposure to the sun. Even riding in a car can be dangerous, because the windows do not block the ultra-violet (UV) rays of the sun that cause damage to the skin. Not everyone who is exposed to the sun's UV rays for long periods develops skin cancer, but it is the major cause of skin cancer. Using a sunscreen of SPF 15 or better can help deter skin cancer, so it is important to always wear sunscreen when outside. Dark clothing and a large hat to protect the face and neck can also help. With the prevalence of indoor tanning facilities, even staying indoors can create hazards for some people. Many manufacturers insist their tanning beds are safer than tanning outside, but studies indicate this is not the case. One study states, "Modern tanning beds emit amounts of UVA that are two to three times higher than the amount received from natural sunlight" (Palmer et al.). Thus, tanning beds can even more dangerous than exposure to the sun, and since most clients of tanning beds are Caucasian women between the ages of 16 and 49, they can be creating an even greater risk factor for skin cancer later in life (Palmer et al.).

Educating people about the dangers of skin cancer seems to be the best treatment available. Many people still do not understand the dangers of UV rays, and do not understand how dangerous skin cancer can be. Even though it is the most common form of cancer in America, people tend to believe it is easily treatable, and so, they do not take it as seriously as other forms of cancer. One-32-year-old mother was diagnosed with melanoma, and it spread to her lymph nodes. Because of this, she has to undergo injections of interferon, a cancer-fighting drug, three times a week. She says, "I did this to myself. If I would have known how serious skin cancer could be, I wouldn't have gone in the sun. I think the highest sunscreen I ever wore was SPF 6 or 8 on my face. I was afraid of wrinkles but never afraid of skin cancer'" (Goff 28). If more people are educated early on about the dangers of skin cancer, perhaps more people will treat the sun…[continue]

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