Skin cancer is a serious concern in the Keys

One major factor for skin cancer is sun exposure, and there is certainly a lot of that in the Keys.

Nikki Sommer, a nurse with Key West Surgical Group, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5 FM for Medical Matters this morning.

It’s important to monitor your sun exposure, especially in the Keys.

Sommer said, “I think there’s a misconception that the hotter climates, there’s a higher risk for skin cancer and rightfully so because more of your skin is exposed. You wear short sleeve shirts all the time or tank tops.”

Skin cancer is an abnormal growth of skin cells.

“The most contributing factor is the sun,” Sommer said. “It’s an abnormal growth of cells usually in areas of the body that are exposed to the sun more often.”

The three more common types of skin cancer are basal cell, melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

Basal cell doesn’t usually turn into anything big.

Sommer said, “Once you notice it, you should see a dermatologist annually at the very least. If they do remove a basal cell, it doesn’t usually go into the lymph nodes or spread to anywhere else in the body. They can be common. They can come back.”

It is necessary to remove those because anything left untreated could become complicated.

“But it’s not as fast growing,” Sommer said. “It’s very rare that it would spread to the lymph nodes or to other parts of the body.”

Basal cell carcinoma is usually found in the head or neck area.

Sommer said, “Look for lesions that are shiny, a skin-colored bump. They almost can look translucent. Sometimes people may think, oh I have a pimple, but the pimple doesn’t go away. Then it may bleed or scab. Sometimes it’ll have a dark spot and the edges will be translucent. The dark spot could be brown, black or bluish in nature. If something pops up that wasn’t there before or you notice something on your arm that is changing color, it’s usually a good idea to get it checked out.”

Chronic sun exposure can increase your risk for basal cell carcinoma.

“This includes tanning beds,” Sommer said. “I know they’re not as popular as they were some time ago. I think that’s because it’s UV rays. UV rays are what penetrate the skin and cause the cancer.”

Fair skin, light skin, people with freckles or who burn easily are at a slightly higher risk.

Other factors include radiation therapy, treatment for acne and other skin conditions, immune suppressing drugs and age.

Sommer said, “The older we get, the more at risk we are for getting skin cancer, however it can occur in your 20s or 30s.”

Family history can also play a role.

Sommer said, “This was something different. I never heard of this, like why would you have arsenic poisoning or exposure to arsenic? But I guess well water. If you’re in areas where there is well water and it becomes contaminated, high levels of arsenic can contribute to basal cell skin cancer.”

Squamous cell carcinoma can form in the middle to outer layers of your skin.

Sommer said, “This is a more aggressive type of cancer. Squamous cells, they’re in different forms of cancer throughout your body, inside and out. This is really important that you pay attention to. It usually can become aggressive if not treated and definitely move to other parts of the body.”

Exposure to UV rays is the main culprit.

Squamous cell carcinoma can be a firm, red nodule that may appear on the skin. It can be a flat sore with a scaly crust, a new lesion that might appear or a sore over an old scar.

Sommer said, “Scars are very important to protect when you go out in the sun because you are more susceptible for having cancer on an old scar. These cancers can appear where the sun doesn’t hit. So down below in the private area, it can occur there. It’s just more common where the sun does hit because it’s the rays that are doing the damage to the skin.”

If you have a history of recurring sunburns, you could be at risk. There is also a pre-cancer skin condition called actinic keratosis and if that’s left untreated and there’s sun exposure, the risk for squamous cell carcinoma can be increased.

Sommer said, “People that have weakened immune systems, medications that suppress the immune system put you at higher risk.”

The lesion is removed as soon as it’s diagnosed. There’s usually a biopsy.

Sommer said, “If you get a diagnosis of squamous cell melanoma, that’s usually when they come see us because there needs to be a deeper tissue removal to make sure that the borders are clear, the margins are clear.”

Melanoma occurs within cells that produce melanin, which is the pigment of the skin.

Sommer said, “Again, it’s increased exposure to the sun. There’s an increase among people who are under the age of 40, especially women, but mostly it’s as you age as an adult, you’re at increased risk for melanoma. Usually it can be found on the soles of your feet, the palms of your hand, even in your fingernails, back, neck, face and arm.”

Both melanoma and squamous cell are pretty serious.

Sommer said, “Squamous cell can spread pretty quickly if left untreated, as well as melanoma.”

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