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Fighting Cancer: Skin Cancer

Posted: August 7, 2013 - 11:40am
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Summertime is a most wonderful time of year. Children are out of school, families take vacations, friends gather at the beach, neighbors gather around backyard grills and pools, and everyone wants to relax and have fun in the sun.

The sun delivers its energy to the Earth in various ways: visible light that you can see, infrared light that you feel as heat and ultraviolet (UV) radiation that you can neither see nor feel. Though the ozone layer shields us from most UV radiation, what gets through can cause harm if too much unprotected time is spent basking in the sun’s rays.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization, UV radiation from the sun and from tanning beds are a human carcinogen, an agent directly involved in causing cancer. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, afflicting more than 2 million people annually.

Skin cancer usually starts as changes to your skin. Scaly patches, persistent roughness, new growths or moles that are irregularly shaped, have different colors and are larger than a pencil eraser need to be checked by a doctor. If you have moles, you should examine your body once a month and know your ABCDE’s. A trip to the dermatologist is needed if you notice:

A: Asymmetry – One side of a mole does not match the other.

B: Border – A mole’s border is irregular in any way.

C: Color – A mole does not have the same color throughout.

D: Diameter – A mole is larger than a pencil eraser.

E: Evolving – A mole begins to shrink, grow, change color, itch or bleed or become elevated from the skin.

Treatment for skin cancer varies depending on the size, type, location and depth of the cancer. Options include, but are not limited to: surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, photodynamic therapy and biologic therapy. Other treatments are being tested in clinical trials and can help further the cancer-research process. Talking with your doctor is the best way to determine which treatment is best for you.

Though sun exposure is the most common cause of skin cancer, other risk factors can increase your chances of developing the disease. Exposure to environmental hazards, radiation therapy and heredity can play a factor, but the risk is greatest for those who have: fair or light-colored eyes, abundance of large or irregularly-shaped moles, family history of skin cancer, history of excessive sun exposure or blistering burns, lived at high altitudes or with year-round sunshine or received radiation treatment.

Do not burn or tan. Seek shade; the sun’s rays are the most intense between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Wear protective clothing. Apply sunscreen. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 30 or greater and apply at least 15 minutes before sun exposure. Use extra caution near reflective surfaces such as sand, snow and water.

If you have been diagnosed with any form of cancer, the Savannah River Cancer Foundation can help. The foundation helps anyone residing in Aiken, Allendale, Barnwell and Edgefield counties with any type of cancer being treated at any facility, regardless of the patient’s age. Financial assistance is available for help with transportation to and from cancer treatments and with cancer medication cost to patients who qualify. Regardless of a patient’s income, the foundation provides referrals to other organizations that provide assistance and maintains the Web site www.savannah
rivercancerfoundation.org, which has cancer information and links to other cancer organizations.

The foundation also co-facilitates a support group for cancer patients, their families and caregivers. It is 3 to 4 p.m. third Wednesdays (excluding December) in the Parlor at Aiken’s First Baptist Church, 120 Chesterfield St., NE, in downtown Aiken. The support group allows attendees to share their experiences, exchange information about resources and reinforce the sense that they are not alone in their survival journey.

Financial assistance applications can be found on the foundation’s Web site, or patients can call (803) 649-LIFE (5433) to request an application by mail. The Savannah River Cancer Foundation is at 235 Barnwell Ave., NW, Aiken, SC 29801. Office hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday.

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