Melanoma

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 years. 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. (Locked) More »

Recognizing and treating basal cell carcinoma

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 (Locked) More »

What does skin cancer look like?

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. (Locked) More »

What is Mohs micrographic surgery

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 necessary. Mohs surgeons have specialized skills and training in dermatology, dermatological surgery, pathology, and the Mohs technique. 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). (Locked) More »

Knees in need

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. (Locked) More »

No coughing matter

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. (Locked) More »

In Brief: Homocysteine: Turns out not to B so simple

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. (Locked) More »

In Brief: Calling it quits

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. (Locked) More »