Cancer is sometimes called ‘the silent killer’ because cells can occasionally grow and mutate and attack the body without people realizing it, often until it’s too late.
That’s why health officials in Cedar Rapids and elsewhere encourage all sorts of screenings and preventive measures, since, in many cases, early detection can lead to early treatment and a much better outcome. By comparison, some people may not notice some cancers until they’ve already done damage and may be beyond treatment, requiring someone to discuss end of life care options.
The team at Accredited Home Care encourages people to take steps to minimize cancer, whether it’s eating or avoiding certain foods, taking part in regular exercise programs, or learning about other risk factors.
Women, for instance, should have regular mammograms that look for possible signs of breast cancer. Regular self-examination also can help notice suspicious lumps. Men and women alike should have regular colonoscopies or endoscopies that can indicate polyps or other colon cancers.
Though there are many types of cancers and some may not be easily detected without direct examination or physical changes (unusual pain, loss of appetite, dramatic weight changes, etc.) but your health care provider likely will have information about some methods.
One that providers are beginning to pay close attention to is skin cancer. Your skin is considered the largest organ in your body, and over time, you run the risk of damaging it in various ways. This can be everything from bruising to sunburns or tans, even if they occurred in childhood.
The American Society of Clinical Oncology said that the number of diagnoses of skin cancer has been on the rise for the last few decades.
This could be due to changes in the ozone layer that lets more ultraviolet rays. It could be due to more attention and awareness of skin cancers by doctors and dermatologists, who are physicians who have received advanced training in the skin and skin conditions.
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, and there are several types that can occur, including basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, Merkel cell, and melanoma.
In some cases, people may experience different types of skin cancer at the same time.
The ASCO says there are 5.4 million cases of basal cell and squamous cell cancers among 3.3 million people, and about 2,000 of these can cause death each year.
Melanoma, the more dangerous type, contributes to about 7,180 deaths each year. All non-melanoma-related deaths from skin cancer total about 4,630.
The organization does point out that, although the number of cases of skin cancer is growing, the death rate is decreasing, which could be due to more awareness and more treatment options.
Early detection and treatment are especially important since, in some cases, active skin cancer such as melanoma can grow quickly and may even cause death within two months.
How to spot skin cancers
Because many people get moles, freckles, or other skin blemishes on their bodies especially as they age, it’s not always easy to guess if any one, in particular, might be dangerous without seeking a professional opinion.
However, there are some items you can notice during a self-examination that can encourage you to check with your provider or dermatologist.
The American Cancer Society has even come up with a handy acrostic method to remember this: ABCDE.
- It starts with A for Asymmetry, which means a suspicious mole, blemish or birthmark doesn’t match the others near it. Or in some cases, the mole itself may look different in places rather than being a uniform color or shape.
- B, for Border, shows that the spot has irregular edges rather than being perfectly round. It could be blurred, notched or ragged.
- C, for Color, indicates that the mole may have different colors and shades to it, including browns, along with white spots, red spots, blue spots, pink spots, or black spots.
- D, for Diameter, may mean that a mole doesn’t match the others near it in terms of size. This could be something that seems too large or unusually small. A mole or freckle that’s a quarter-inch across might be unusual.
- E, for Evolving, can show that a mole keeps changing.
Any of these individually don’t necessarily indicate that a mole or blemish is automatically cancer. But something on your skin fits several of these points, it might mean an opportunity to make an appointment with a health care provider.
In addition, other warning signs can include a mole that seems to be growing, feeling itchy, or changing its surface. Something that bleeds spontaneously, or leaks fluid may also be a reason for alarm.
The American Cancer Society recommends self-examinations at least once a month as a precaution. You can also invite a partner or spouse to look at your back or places that are hard to see. They are also good people to alert you if something looks different than it did last month.
Depending on your history or family history of cancer, a provider may remove or freeze moles, or take a sample for a biopsy.