Skin cancer is one the most common types of cancer and one of the most treatable if caught early. As such it is important to pay attention to changes on the skin and have them checked out. While family history plays a role in who will get skin cancer, you can also minimize your risk by limiting sun exposure.
It is a known fact that fairer skinned individuals are more likely to develop skin cancer. Other skin types can and do get skin cancer, so even very dark-skinned individuals get the disease. Sun protection is important for everyone to help prevent cancer from affecting the skin.
What is Skin Cancer?
Medchartprevention.com defines skin cancer as “a condition where a cancerous growth arises out of the skin.” In fact, there are different types of skin cancer. The most common types are basal and squamous cells, and melanoma. The most dangerous type is malignant melanoma.
When was Skin Cancer First Diagnosed?
The history of skin cancer is not well documented, but it is obviously not a new disease. In fact some 2400 year old mummies discovered in Peru have been found to have had skin cancer.
Melanoma (skin cancer) was first identified as a disease by French physician, René Laennec who talked about it in a lecture in 1804. It is believed he also gave the disease its name. Laennec findings were published in 1806.
The first person to have actually operated on a skin cancer lesion was Scottish anatomist and surgeon John Hunter in 1787. Hunter didn’t know what it was although he said that it looked like a “cancerous fungous excrescence” – translated to “cancerous fungus”. Interestingly, this tissue was so well preserved, scientists were able to examine it in 1968 and it was confirmed as a melanoma.
In 1840, Samuel Cooper reported that melanoma was mostly untreatable during the advanced stage. This is a situation that has remained more or less true today.
How Skin Cancer is Diagnosed
Once the suspicion of skin cancer has arisen, a biopsy is done to confirm the diagnosis. In many cases, it is the patient who first notices some changes in a mole or wart on the skin and brings it to their doctor or dermatologist’s attention. There are two types of biopsies, excisional and incisional. With excisional biopsy the entire growth is removed for examination. With incisional, the dermatologist takes just a part of the tissue to be examined for cancer cells.
Treatment & Prevention of Skin Cancer
While sun exposure limitation is important in skin cancer prevention, it is difficult to limit sun exposure all together. Using sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher is recommended to offer some level of protection. Wearing hats and clothing that limit sun exposure is also good, especially if you are in the sun when it’s hottest. Between 10AM and 3PM are the hours when the sun is at its warmest and exposure should be limited where possible. Total avoidance of the sunlight is not recommended as sunlight is the best source of Vitamin D. It is best to reapply sunscreen every two hours as sweat will help to reduce coverage.
Sun prevention is best begun in childhood, however, it’s never too late to start practicing safe ways to help prevent skin cancer. Henry Oliver Lancaster is to be thanked for first seeing the connection between skin cancer and sun exposure.
March 20th, 2009
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