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Why is skin cancer so common on the head and neck?

Dr. Thomas Shellenberger  

Dr. Thomas Shellenberger is a surgical oncologist on staff at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center in Gilbert.

Question: Why is skin cancer so common on the head and neck and what can people living in a sunny state like Arizona do to prevent skin cancer?

Answer: Skin cancer, which is by far the most common of all cancer types, has been on the rise in the US for the past 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The actual incidence of skin cancer is far more than we actually know as not all cases are reported to cancer registries. In fact, estimates suggest that one in five people in the US will develop skin cancer, reports the Skin Cancer Foundation.

The primary culprit of skin cancer, as it has always been, is the sun. So, it is certainly understandable to be concerned about skin cancer if you live in the Sun Belt region of the US, which stretches across the South and Southwest.

There are three main forms of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Basal cell carcinoma, which forms in the outer layer of the skin, makes up the vast majority of skin cancer. Squamous cell carcinoma is cancer of flat squamous cells that form on the surface of the skin. Melanoma develops in skin cells called melanocytes. Although melanoma is far less common than the other two types, it is the most aggressive and dangerous. When detected and treated early on, all three forms of skin cancer are highly curable. With that in mind, it is critical for all people to conduct regular self-skin exams so that any unusual or suspicious sores, bumps, lumps, lesions, or moles can be identified and addressed quickly. The earlier skin cancer is caught and treated, the better the outcome.

Of course the best course of beating skin cancer is doing everything we can to prevent it. The best means for preventing skin cancer is avoiding or reducing sun exposure whenever possible. For this reason it is important to cover up whenever you are outdoors, including long sleeves, gloves, and hats. It is also recommended to use and frequently apply the highest level skin protectant you can use anytime you go outdoors, whether it is sunny or not. Also, discuss any troublesome spots with your healthcare provider and see a dermatologist regularly for professional examinations of your skin.

Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center
Higley Road and US 60
2946 E. Banner Gateway Drive
Gilbert, AZ 85234
(480) 256-6444
(855) 256-6444

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