Skin Cancer and the Southwest
By Dr. Colin R. Trout, M.D. Dermatologist. Tucson Arizona.

Skin cancer is the most prevalent of all cancers with over one million Americans developing skin cancer this year. It has been in the media as of late with the news that the First Lady recently had a squamous cell carcinoma removed from her leg. Skin cancer is a very common occurrence here in the southwest and some statistics have indicated that the Tucson area has the second highest incidence of skin cancer in the world.

Basal cell carcinoma

  • Most common skin cancer
  • Appears as a pearly bump, nodule or red plaque
  • Grows slowly over months
  • Generally occurs on sun-exposed areas
  • They can occur in areas that are not frequently exposed to the sun
  • When untreated, will often bleed, crust over, heal, and then repeat the cycle.

Basal cell carcinomas rarely metastasize

  • They can cause significant local damage
  • Squamous cell carcinoma
  • Second most common type of skin cancer
  • Usually occurs on sun-exposed areas, including the ears, face (including the lips), neck and arms
  • Typically appear as red, scaly plaques that may bleed and never heal
  • Can metastasize to other areas of the body
  • It is important to have them treated early.

Melanoma

  • The most dangerous type of skin cancer
  • It is estimated that 8,000 Americans will die from it this year
  • Usually pigmented (dark in color)
  • Frequently have an irregular shape
  • Uneven borders
  • Variations in color.
  • May be larger than average nevi (moles)
  • They often change in shape and/or color
  • They can occasionally bleed, or be itchy or painful
  • May develop in a pre-existing nevus or start as a new, dark lesion.

Prevention is the best defense against skin cancer. While sun avoidance it the best prevention, it is hard to completely avoid the sun here in the southwest. Sun protection is our next level of defense. The cowboys had it right by wearing wide-brimmed hats, long-sleeved shirts made of dense fabric, and pants. That is not the usual attire in Tucson, especially during the summer, so high SPF broad spectrum sunscreen, hats that cover the ears, and clothing designed for sun protection are recommended daily.

Skin cancer is highly curable with early detection and treatment. We recommend that patients perform a self-assessment skin exam monthly and be seen by a dermatologist at least once a year for a complete skin exam. If you have a lesion you are concerned about, have it checked by a dermatologist as soon as possible.

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