Healthy Manhattan: The Dark Side of the Sun

Written by Dr. Cynthia Paulis on . Posted in Healthy Manhattan, Posts.


First,  Mollie Biggane noticed a small mole at the back of her thigh. Six months later, she was dead at the age of 20. The mole was melanoma, a lethal skin cancer that is the number one killer in young women between the ages of 25 and 29 today, and one that is rising at an alarming rate.

May has been designated as melanoma awareness month and the foundation named for Biggane is running PSAs to encourage people to examine themselves carefully for any changing or new moles on their body. Melanoma is 95-percent curable with early detection. Once it spreads, the prognosis is poor.

The majority of malignant melanomas are brown to black pigmented lesions. Melanoma will often develop from a preexisting mole or look like a new mole.

Warning signs include any change in size, shape, color or elevation of a mole. The appearance of a new mole during adulthood or new pain, itching, ulceration or bleeding of a preexisting mole should be checked out immediately.

The underlying cause of all skin cancers is the end result of ultraviolet rays, which is why some skin cancers such as melanoma may occur in areas that are not even exposed to the sun. "Ultraviolet rays not only do direct damage to the skin and the DNA in the skin cells, it also suppresses the immune system in the skin," Dr. Peter O’Neill, chief of dermatology at Winthrop- University Hospital, explained. "Part of the immune surveillance in the skin is to wipe out cancerous cells. If you suppress the immune areas of the skin, cancer can appear in other areas of the skin."

Melanoma can be found anywhere on the body, but it is mostly on the trunk in men and on the
legs and trunk in women. When a melanoma is suspected, the lesion is
biopsied and, if confirmed, treatment needs to begin immediately. "If
the melanoma is less than 1 millimeter, then a wide excision is enough
for treatment, which is 95 percent effective," said O’Neill. "Most
melanoma start very thin and are easy to detect and very curable. Once
they grow to a certain depth in the skin and become more invasive, the
mortality rate soars and the other treatment modalities are not very
effective."

Basal
cell skin cancer is the most common skin cancer. It is slow growing and
usually occurs in the areas of the body exposed to the sun, such as the
face, ears, scalp and upper trunk, but most commonly on the face. Basal
cells appear as a shiny translucent or pearly nodule, a sore that
continuously heals and then reopens, a pink slightly elevated growth,
reddish irritated patches of skin or a waxy scar. Unlike melanoma, it
rarely spreads to other
parts of the body. If the cancer is not removed it can cause extensive
damage and disfigurement to the surrounding tissues.

Squamous
cell cancer is usually seen in fair-skinned, middle-aged and elderly
people who have had extensive sun exposure. The squamous cell lesion
will have a crusted or scaly area of skin with a red, inflamed base that
looks like a growing tumor, non-healing ulcer or crusted-over patch of
skin. Squamous cells can be found anywhere in the body, including the
inside of the mouth and genitalia, and can spread and spread to other
areas of the body.

The key to reducing your risk of skin cancer is prevention, namely using sunscreen.

"Just
because you apply sunscreen, don’t think it’s a coat of armor," O’Neill
emphasized. "Check yourself frequently for signs of skin cancer." As
for advice for the nude sunbathers, he laughed and said, "Cover up, use
sun screen, get under an umbrella and wear a hat."


How to Prevent Skin Cancer

• Use a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 and make sure it blocks both UVA and UVB rays.

• Sunscreen should be applied frequently and at least 30 minutes before you go out, even on cloudy days.

• Reapply the sunscreen every two hours, especially after sweating and swimming.

• Avoid intense sunrays between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

• Wear a wide-brimmed hat.

• If you are light-skinned and prone to sunburn, wear long sleeves.

• Sunglasses should protect the eyes from ultraviolet rays, not just look fashionable. Sun exposure to the eyes can cause cataracts.

• Tanning beds are not safe; they emit ultraviolet rays.

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