Q: How common is skin cancer?
A: Very common. Each year, about 1 million cases are diagnosed in the United States. This is more than all other types of cancer combined.
Q: What are the most common types of skin cancer?
A: The most common types are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, both of which are highly treatable and usually not serious. The third most common type, melanoma, is a more serious disease. But even melanoma can be cured in more than 90% of all cases if it is detected early.
Q: What can I do to reduce my risk of getting skin cancer?
A: For most people, the single most important thing to do is to protect yourself from exposure to the sun. Most skin cancers are related to too much sun exposure.
Q: Can children get skin cancer?
A: It can happen, but it's rare. However, that doesn't mean that skin cancer isn't an important issue for children. Being exposed to the sun during childhood increases a person's risk of getting skin cancer as an adult. For this reason - as well as to prevent painful sunburns - protecting children from too much sun is important.
Q: What's the best kind of sunscreen to use?
A: One that's water-resistant and provides broad-spectrum protection, that is, protection against both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. Choose a sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) rating of at least 15, and put some on at least once every two hours when you are out in the sun - more often if you've been swimming or sweating.
Q: Is sunscreen the only way to protect yourself against the sun?
A: No. Limiting the amount of time you spend out in the sun, staying out of the sun when the sun's rays are brightest (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.), and wearing protective clothing and a broad-brimmed hat are also good ways to protect yourself.
Q: Can taking medicines affect my risk of skin cancer?
A: In some cases, yes. Medicines that suppress your immune system, such as those taken by organ transplant recipients, increase skin cancer risk. Also, many different types of medicines increase sensitivity to the sun. If people taking these medicines aren't careful to protect themselves from sun exposure, they can develop bad sunburns, which increases their likelihood of later developing skin cancer.
Q: Is indoor tanning safe?
A: No. Indoor tanning exposes your skin to ultraviolet rays, just as being out in the sunlight does. Therefore, it increases your risk of skin cancer.
Q: Do I need some exposure to sunlight to get enough vitamin D?
A: No. You can get all the vitamin D you need from foods, especially vitamin D-fortified milk, or from vitamin supplements that contain this vitamin.
Q: Should everyone be screened for skin cancer by a doctor?
A: Some experts say yes, while others say that the benefits of screening for people with no symptoms have not been proven. Of course, if you have any concerns about your skin, you should feel free to bring them to your doctor's attention.
Q: Should I examine my own skin for signs of skin cancer?
A: Yes. Experts recommend doing this every year or even more often. Once you get to know what your skin usually looks like, you will be better able to notice changes that could be signs of skin cancer or other skin diseases. If you notice any changes, especially in a mole, see your doctor or make an appointment with a dermatologist.
Q: Are all growths on the skin cancerous?
A: No. In fact, most are not. But all new growths or changes in your skin should be checked out by a doctor, just in case.
Q: Can dark-skinned people get skin cancer?
A: Yes, but it is less common than in light-skinned people.
Q: What is a skin biopsy?
A: A skin biopsy is a diagnostic test in which a doctor removes a piece of tissue and sends it to a laboratory to be examined under a microscope. This is usually a very simple procedure that can be performed in the doctor's office, using a local anesthetic. Skin biopsies are used to determine whether a particular growth is skin cancer.
Q: What is basal cell carcinoma?
A: Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer. It usually occurs in middle-aged or elderly people, it grows slowly, and it can almost always be treated successfully, often by a simple procedure performed in a doctor's office.
Q: What is squamous cell carcinoma?
A: Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common type of skin cancer, after basal cell carcinoma. Like basal cell carcinoma, it is usually readily treatable.
Q: What is melanoma?
A: Melanoma is a type of skin cancer affecting the melanocytes - special cells in the skin that give the skin its color. It often looks like an unusual or changing mole. Melanoma is more serious than basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma because it can spread quickly if it is not detected and treated promptly, and if it spreads to other parts of the body, it can be fatal.
Q: What is Kaposi sarcoma?
A: Kaposi sarcoma is a rare type of skin cancer caused by a virus. This type of skin cancer suddenly became more common with the onset of the AIDS epidemic. The suppression of the immune system that is characteristic of AIDS promotes the development of Kaposi sarcoma in people who are infected with the virus that causes this cancer.
Q: Is complementary or alternative medicine used in the prevention or treatment of skin cancer?
A: Sometimes, but it should be used in combination with conventional methods, not as a substitute for them. Patients who want to try unconventional therapies should discuss their plans with their doctors. Some types of unconventional therapy may be risky or may interfere with the effectiveness of conventional methods of treatment.
Q: Are new methods of treatment for skin cancer being developed?
A: Yes. There are many research projects underway. Skin cancer patients who are interested in being part of the development of new treatments may want to inquire about the possibility of participating in clinical trials of new methods of therapy.