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An estimated 60,000 new cases of melanoma are diagnosed each year
in the United States—about 5% of all new cancer cases. Eight
thousand Americans die each year from the disease.
For decades, the incidence has been increasing, although that may
be the result of more testing. And some recent research suggests
that the number of new cases has leveled off in the past few
About 10% of people who get melanoma have a family history of the
disease, suggesting a genetic component. If someone's parent,
sibling, or child has had the disease, his or her risk of also
getting melanoma is 8- to 12-times greater than someone without
an affected first-degree relative. Researchers are looking but
haven't yet identified any melanoma genes.
With summer around the corner, our thoughts and plans naturally turn to outdoor activities and the opportunity to bask in the warmth of the sun. But there's a dark side to the time we spend in the sun — it's called a tan. Despite its association with prosperity, good looks, and good health, a tan in reality is a sign that the sun has damaged the skin cells. For some people, such damage can result in skin cancer. The sun is the chief cause of more than 1.3 million skin cancers each year in the United States.
There are three main types. Melanoma is probably the most familiar — not because it's common but because it's so deadly. It accounts for only 4% of skin cancers but 75% of skin cancer deaths. A second type, squamous cell carcinoma, occurs three times more often than melanoma. Although it's less serious, it can metastasize and cause extensive damage. About 3%–4% of people with squamous cell carcinoma die from the disease.
By far the most common skin cancer, and the subject of this article, is basal cell
Not all growths on the skin are skin cancer. And not all skin
cancers look alike. Pictured below are examples of basal cell and
squamous cell carcinoma—together called nonmelanoma skin cancers.
But keep in mind there's tremendous variability, even within each
type of skin cancer. A nonmelanoma skin cancer can be smooth or
crusty or even-colored or pigmented, and the borders may or may
not be well defined. You should have a dermatologist look at
anything that persists for three or more weeks (or seems to go
away then comes back) or bleeds easily.
Melanoma, also pictured below, is different in that most arise
from an existing mole. But as a melanoma grows, it causes changes
that distinguish it from a mole. The warning signs, sometimes
referred to as the ABCDs of melanoma, are: Asymmetry (one half
doesn't match the other half); Border irregularity (the edges are
ragged); Color variability (the pigmentation is uneven, with
various colors present); and Diameter (larger than a pencil
eraser, or about one-quarter inch across). Some experts have
urged that a fifth letter be added: E, for evolving. The idea is
that early melanomas often change in appearance, so be on the
lookout for changes in size, shape, bleeding, color, and symptoms
such as itching or soreness.
Mohs micrographic surgery is the usual first choice for treating
high-risk squamous cell and basal cell skin cancers (and
sometimes melanoma) because it offers the best chance of a cure
and the best possible cosmetic result. When used to treat a first
skin cancer, cure rates five years after Mohs surgery are 97% for
squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and 99% for basal cell carcinoma
(BCC)—higher than any other treatment approach. The procedure
allows a physician to track down the cancer to its roots and
remove it without taking more tissue than is absolutely
Mohs surgeons have specialized skills and training in
dermatology, dermatological surgery, pathology, and the Mohs
BCC and SCC can grow downward and outward, like the roots of a
plant, and may extend further than is visible at the surface.
Clinicians consider skin cancers on the central part of face,
temple area, and ears to be high-risk because they have the
potential to cause disfiguring damage to an eye or ear, the lips,
the nose, or the forehead. Skin cancers can also invade tissues
such as cartilage, bone, blood vessels, and nerves, which
increases risk in certain areas of the head and neck and also the
feet and hands. Risk also rises if the tumor is particularly
aggressive, has recurred, or is large (greater than 0.2–0.4 inch
in high risk areas of the head or face or greater than 0.75 inch
for other areas).
Studies show that knee problems related to arthritis are not
alleviated by supplements. Experts advise using a brace,
orthotics, good-quality running shoes, and exercise.
Experts say many over-the-counter cough medicines are
ineffective, and that those suffering from a cold-related cough
should take an antihistamine with a nasal decongestant.
Squamous cell skin cancer is more common than melanoma, and while
not as lethal, it is still serious. If detected early, it is
A high level of homocysteine was thought to indicate a higher
risk of heart attack or stroke. But two studies show that while B
vitamins tend to lower homocysteine levels, the risk of
cardiovascular disease does not decrease along with them.
Periodic phone support calls to those trying to quit smoking, in
addition to other cessation services, can increase the chance
that quitters will not start smoking again.
Sugar dissolved in water is suggested as a hiccup remedy. The
phrenic nerve originates in the spinal cord, not the medulla
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