When it comes to skin cancer, there’s good news and bad news. First, the bad news. A report published in the June 2017 Mayo Clinic Proceedings found that cases of basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) skin cancers have risen 263% and 145%, respectively, over the past decade.
The good news? BCC and SCC are rarely life-threatening and they’re usually easy to treat if they’re caught early. Plus, there are simple ways to prevent them.
“Even though there has been greater attention on skin cancer prevention over the years, men still get both of these skin cancers at higher rates than women do,” says Dr. Cecilia Larocca, a dermatologist with Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “It’s important for men to protect themselves, as having a history of BCC or SCC is a sign of chronic sun damage, which is also associated with a higher risk for the more serious and potentially deadly melanoma.”
|Types of skin cancer|
Image: © solar22/Getty ImagesThe most common skin cancers differ in how they penetrate the skin. They are (1) squamous cell carcinoma, (2) basal cell carcinoma, and (3) melanoma.
A look at your skin
The difference between BCC, SCC, and melanoma is the type of cell from which each arises and how far they penetrate the skin (see illustration).
BCC is thought to derive from skin stem cells within the hair follicle. SCC is a cancer of the keratinocyte (the most common cell in the epidermis, the outermost layer of the skin), and melanoma forms from melanocytes (skin cells in the bottom layer of the epidermis).
Both long-term sun exposure and frequent sunburns can cause skin damage that can lead to BCC and SCC. In general, intermittent recreational sun exposure is linked with an increased risk of BCC, while long-term frequent exposure is most associated with SCC. The two skin cancers are considered less threatening than melanoma because they are slow-growing, and it takes a long time for one to turn into a more serious tumor.
Still, they can become difficult to treat surgically if they are left alone, and while it is uncommon, it’s still possible these cancers can spread to other parts of the body.
Different shapes and sizes
BCC may look like a bleeding pimple, an open sore, a red patch, a pink shiny growth, or a scar. SCC takes the form of a crusted or scaly red bump or patch, or it may resemble a wart.
Both cancers appear in areas frequently exposed to the sun, such as the face, rim of the ear, lower lip, balding scalp, neck, hands, arms, shoulders, back, and legs. While anyone with a history of sun exposure can develop BCC or SCC, people who are most susceptible are those with fair skin, blond or red hair, and blue, green, or gray eyes.
It’s important to check with your doctor or dermatologist if you notice any growth that gets larger, becomes darker, or changes shape. “The earlier you treat BCC and SCC, when they are smaller, the more options you have,” says Dr. Larocca.
Mohs micrographic surgery is a common technique for treating BCC and SCC. After the area is numbed with an injection, the doctor uses a scalpel to remove a layer of cancerous tissue.
The doctor then examines it under a microscope, and if any cancer cells remain, another layer of tissue is removed, and the process is repeated until no cancer cells appear in the removed sample.
“The procedure often is reserved for treatment of skin cancer in challenging areas, such as the face or hands, or cancers larger than 2 centimeters,” says Dr. Larocca. “A standard surgical excision is used to remove skin cancers on other areas of the body.”
There are other less invasive options for smaller, less worrisome skin cancers. A cream containing 5-fluorouracil (Efudex, Carac, and Fluoroplex) or imiquimod (Aldara) kills cancer cells close to the skin’s surface and is typically applied once or twice a day for several weeks.
Other options include two in-office procedures: cryotherapy, which uses liquid nitrogen to freeze and destroy cancer cells, and electrodessication, which uses an electric current to remove the cancer.
|Nicotinamide may help prevent some skin cancersIf you have had BCC or SCC before, you may benefit from nicotinamide (a form of vitamin B3). In a 2015 study, people who’d had either BCC or SCC in the previous five years took 500-mg nicotinamide supplements or a placebo twice a day for a year. Afterward, there were fewer new BCC and SCC cancers in the supplement group compared with the placebo group (1.8 skin cancers versus 2.4 per 100 people). Check with your doctor about whether this is an option for you.|
It is possible that men have a higher incidence of BCC and SCC than women do because they tend to spend more time outdoors for work or recreation. “In general, men also are not as diligent about sun protection,” says Dr. Larocca.
Reducing your risk for BCC and SCC is easy if you follow standard sun protection guidelines. This means trying to avoid the sun from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., when ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure is at its peak; always wearing protective clothing, hats, and sunglasses that also block sunlight from the sides; and using enough sunscreen.
Dr. Larocca says you should wear a hat with a four-inch brim all around and use a water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Apply at least 1 ounce of sunscreen — about the amount you can hold in your palm — to all exposed areas of your body, and don’t forget your ears, the tops of your feet, and the backs of your legs. Use a lip balm with an SPF of at least 30 to protect your lips.
As for clothing, opt for synthetic fibers, such as polyester, Lycra, nylon, and acrylic. These have elastic threads that pull the fibers close together, which reduces the spaces between them and blocks more of the sun’s UV rays. Color matters too. Darker colors are better at blocking UV rays than lighter ones.
Some clothing brands offer specially designed sun protection clothing, which is marked with a UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) label and number. The number indicates what fraction of the sun’s UV rays can penetrate the fabric and reach your skin.
For example, a shirt with a UPF of 50 allows only one-fiftieth of the sun’s rays to pass through, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. “Look for sun protection clothing with a 30 UPF or higher,” says Dr. Larocca.
Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren
I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. Isaiah 61:10 NIV
Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. John 16:24 NIV
Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7 NIV
A person finds joy in giving an apt reply— and how good is a timely word! Proverbs 15:23 NIV
That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:10 NIV
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Romans 12:15 NIV
You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.
Psalm 32:7 NIV
So that I may come to you with joy, by God’s will, and in your company be refreshed. Romans 15:32 NIV
Your statutes are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart. Psalm 119:111 NIV
But godliness with contentment is great gain. 1 Timothy 6:6 NIV
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. Hebrews 11:6 NIV
For the Lord takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with victory. Psalm 149:4 NIV
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 1 Timothy 6:17 NIV
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