Skin Cancers are the most common malignancies suffered by humans. Although they are caused by a variety of agents including chemicals and chronic xray exposure, the overwhelming majority of tumors arise as a result of sun damage to the skin. The incidence of all skin cancers is directly related to location on the earth measured in latitude. The closer that one approaches the equator where the sun's rays are most intense ( and where skin is most often exposed), the higher is the incidence of cutaneous malignancy.
Many skin cancers develop after long "latency" periods, which is to say, after a long time has passed since the episode of sun exposure. It appears that one significant sunburn suffered in the teens or twenties may produce genetic changes in skin cells which lead to tumor development 15-25 years later. Hence, the importance of prevention in the young.

Prevention

It is a platitude to say that prevention is the best cure, but this is nonetheless the case. "Sun-worshiping" is a bad idea for all of us, but particularly for the fair whose skin provides little protective pigmentation. When prolonged sun exposure is unavoidable during the late spring, summer, and early fall when sunlight is intense, barrier protection (hats and clothes) and sunscreens should be used. One should avoid prolonged exposure during the part of the day when the sun is most intense ( 10 am to 2 pm), and should "get to know" the nature of one's skin. Those who tan easily ( ie. those of darker complexion) run less risk with exposure, but are by no means immune. The fair-complected individual must be particularly scrupulous in avoiding the sun, since burns are more likely.

Although tans are considered fashionable and attractive, those who avoid regular, prolonged sun exposure will reap other dividends beyond the avoidance of future skin cancers. The same harmful rays which are the culprits in cancer generation will cause the skin to age prematurely. Therefore, sun protection at a young age guarantees the most youthful appearance one can have when older.

Types of Skin Cancer

The commonest skin malignancies are:

Basal cell carcinoma ( basal cell "epithelioma")
Squamous cell carcinoma
Melanoma

Each of these tumors has quite different charcter and potential. As a result, the approach to their treatment is quite different. Use the links above to learn about each of these.

2/21/00

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