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Limit Exposure to Harmful Ultraviolet Rays to Lower Your Risk of Skin Cancer

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The most common type of cancer diagnosed each year in the United States is skin cancer. Most skin cancers are the result of too much exposure to sunlight or ultraviolet rays. In recent decades people have become aware of the cause and have taken steps to avoid over exposure to harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun or from tanning beds and tanning lamps.

There are three types of skin cancer.  Basal cell carcinoma, the most common type of cancer, presents itself as a recurring and sometimes bleeding sore.  Squamous cell carcinoma, the second most common type of skin cancer, begins in squamous cells (thin, flat cells) that are most commonly found in the tissue on the surface of the skin. Neither of these skin cancers spread to other parts of the body and can generally be successfully treated with surgery, radiation or topical chemotherapy.

Melanoma, which originates from pigment-producing skin cells (melanocytes), is the least common but potentially deadliest form of skin cancer. Melanomas can develop anywhere on the skin, but are often present on areas of the body which receive the most exposure to sunlight. The National Cancer Institute estimates about 87,110 new melanomas were diagnosed in 2017.

Some people are more prone to melanoma than others; those with fare skin tone and high freckle density, red or light-colored hair and those with a family history of the disease. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that around 60,000 early deaths occur each year worldwide because of excessive exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation. An estimated 48,000 of these deaths are from malignant melanoma. Early detection can be difficult but regular inspections of the skin for alterations in appearance can detect signs of the disease. Look for skin changes, such as a new spot or mole or a change in color, shape, or size of a current spot or mole; a skin sore that fails to heal or becomes sore of painful to the touch, or a lump that looks shiny, waxy, smooth, or pale. Others may bleed or appear ulcerated or crusty to the touch.

Melanomas that are undetected and untreated will spread to other parts of the body and may become life threatening if not caught and treated in the earliest stages. Surgery is often the first approach. Lesions and surrounding tissue are removed, and a biopsy is taken to determine if the cancer has spread into the lymph nodes. In less common cases, chemotherapy or immune therapy is warranted.

The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has recently approved the drug nivolumab for stage III melanoma. An adjuvant therapy for stage III melanoma, studies have indicated that the immunotherapy delayed recurrence of the disease with fewer side effects.  Awny Farajallah, MD, head of U.S. medical oncology for Bristol-Myers Squibb, says, “We’re very excited about the approval of adjuvant nivolumab. To date, 71 to 85 percent of stage III patients will have a recurrence, and this gives us an important additional option to bring those numbers down. Adjuvant therapy is an important part of our efforts to advance cancer treatment through immuno-oncology, with the ultimate goal of providing a potential cure.”

As with all cancers, lessening exposure to the risk factors is the best plan of action. Avoid sun burns. Wear clothing that protects exposed areas of the body. Use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 20-30 and a 4 or 5-star UV rating. If you have a job that exposes you to constant sunlight, take all available precautions to minimize your exposure.

Early Detection and Treatment May Prevent Cervical Cancer

Cervical Cancer Ribbon

Each year, an estimated 12,820 women in the United States will be diagnosed with some form of cervical cancer. Approximately 4,200 women die from the disease each year, and more than a quarter of a million women will live with the disease each year.  While the numbers can be daunting, when detected early, 91 percent of those diagnosed with cervical cancer will survive.

Long-lasting infections with certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) cause almost all cases of cervical cancer. Normal cells of the cervix can gradually develop pre-cancerous changes.  These cells do not suddenly change into cancer. Instead, the normal cells of the cervix first gradually develop pre-cancerous changes that may turn into cancer.

The two main types of cervical cancer are squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma and represent the vast majority of cancer of the cervix. Only some of the women with pre-cancers of the cervix will develop cancer, and it may take several years for cervical pre-cancer to change to cervical cancer. For most women, pre-cancerous cells will go away without any treatment, but others will have their pre-cancers turn into invasive cancers.

Detecting and treating all cervical pre-cancers may prevent true cervical cancers. The Pap test (or Pap smear) and the HPV test may prevent cervical cancer by detecting pre-cancers before they can turn into an invasive form of cancer. During the past several decades, screening has reduced deaths from cervical cancer by finding the cancer early and treating it or preventing it from developing.

For women it can be very hard not to be exposed to HPV. Passed from one person to another during skin-to-skin contact with an infected area of the body, HPV can be spread rapidly and easily.

Available vaccines can protect against infection with the HPV subtypes most commonly linked to cancer. These vaccines help prevent pre-cancers and cancers of the cervix. The vaccines require a series of injections and may cause some mild side effects. The most common are is short-term redness, swelling, and soreness at the injection site.

The American Cancer Society recommends vaccinations for girls and boys beginning at age 11 or 12. HPV vaccination is also recommended for females 13 to 26 and males between the ages of 13 and 21. Vaccination at older ages is less effective in lowering cancer risk. No vaccine provides complete protection against all cancer-causing types of HPV, so routine cervical cancer screening is still recommended.

For more than 25 years, Gettysburg Cancer Center has been committed to providing cancer care in a community-based setting close to home. A leader in Oncology care across the region since 1989, Gettysburg Cancer Center’s cancer team provides screening and treatment options to women across York and Adams County.

For the latest information on early detection and treatments for cervical cancer, contact the Gettysburg Cancer Center.