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kin cancer is one of the most common types of cancers. In the United States alone, nearly 3.5 million individuals receive a skin cancer diagnosis every year, more than any other type of cancer. An estimated one in five Americans alone is at risk of developing skin cancer over the course of their lifetime.
Unfortunately, diagnosis of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, has increased by approximately 800% in the last 30 years, and one person succumbs to melanoma every hour. While melanoma accounts for less than 5% of all skin cancers, it also ranks as the highest in skin cancer deaths. However, the survival rate of those diagnosed with early detected melanoma is extremely good.
Types of skin cancer
A number of skin cancers are diagnosed every year, including but not limited to:
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer and is rarely fatal.
Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common form of skin cancer, but is classified as non-melanoma types of cancer. Approximately 90% of the non-melanoma types of skin cancers have been linked to exposure to UV radiation from the sun.
Melanoma is perhaps the most well-known, and is also one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer. Melanoma is best treated when diagnosed early. Melanoma forms when cancerous skin cells develop and proliferate in skin cells, often caused by UV rays or tanning beds. These genetically defective cells multiply rapidly and can form malignant tumors.
A melanoma resembles a mole, and is typically brown or black in color, although other shades are possible. When treated early, melanoma is nearly always curable. If left untreated, melanoma cancer can spread to other parts of the body, making it increasingly difficult to treat.
Spotting the signs
Melanomas are typically irregular or asymmetrical shaped dark blotches on the skin that appear much like a dark freckle or a mole. The easiest way to identify a melanoma is to look at its shape. If you were to draw a line down the center of the mole or dark spot, the two halves wouldn't match. The borders are uneven, and colors within the mole or freckle may differentiate. Melanoma is usually larger than a pencil eraser, and can change in their color, shape, or size.
Treatments for skin cancers
In most cases, skin cancers are treated through surgical excision. However, before any treatment plan is recommended, diagnostics will determine, through biopsy, the type of cancer and potential options for treatment. In most cases, a larger tissue biopsy or excision will remove not only the melanoma, but surrounding tissues. In some cases, a melanoma that has grown deeper into the skin may require skin grafting in order to minimize scarring.
Your doctor will perform certain tests to determine whether the melanoma or cancerous growth has spread to surrounding lymph glands. In some cases, nearby lymph nodes may be surgically removed, as once cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, it has ready access to all areas of the body. However, if cancer has spread to lymph nodes, the cancer is generally deemed very difficult to eradicate, and may be termed terminal. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy may be recommended to extend survival time.
Immunotherapy options are also available. Immunotherapy is focused on strengthening the immune system's ability to fight the melanoma or other malignant cancer, and utilizes a chemical called interferon.
Basal cell carcinoma is curable. Basal cell carcinoma is removed through cryosurgery or freezing, excision, electro-surgery, or radiation therapy.
Squamous cell carcinoma, classified as a life-threatening skin cancer, involves treatment that removes the cancerous growth or tumor through excision, or by cryosurgery (freezing), or radiation therapy. Some advanced squamous cell carcinomas may also respond well to chemotherapy.
How much do skin cancer treatments cost?
In the US, skin cancer biopsies used for diagnostics can cost anywhere up to $3,000, depending on the location, difficulty, and accessibility of the biopsy sample. Chemotherapy costs can range anywhere from $2,000-$4,000 a month, depending on drugs, and frequency of chemotherapy treatments. Cost of radiation therapies, depending on the type of radiation and drugs involved, are determined by where the cancer is located and the process utilized to treat it, as well as the number of sessions required. Radiation therapy costs can top out at over $60,000.
Individuals traveling to other countries for treatment may save thousands of dollars. For example, India provides a number of radiation therapies for approximately $6,000 per course of treatment, and the same goes for chemotherapy medication costs and diagnostics.
Who treats skin cancers?
Oncologists, in conjunction with a dermatologist, may treat skin cancer patients. The cancer specialist or oncologist focusing on skin cancers provides optimal experience, training and understanding of the latest in techniques and technologies in treating a number of skin cancers. Any surgeon or oncologist should be certified and licensed in their field, as well as with national or international boards of oncologists, or certified in specific areas of cancer care.
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