Surgeon advises caution amid high rates of skin cancer

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Arizona has long had high rates of skin cancer, which is not surprising considering the abundance of sunny days in the desert southwest. But what do we know about skin cancer: its risk factors, how it’s diagnosed and the best ways to protect against the disease? Dr. Edgar Staren from Arizona Oncology has some answers.

What causes skin cancer?

Staren says that ultraviolet radiation is the culprit, and that the sun isn’t the only place you can be exposed to damaging rays.

“It’s not just ultraviolet from the sun. Tanning booths, sun lamps and the like can also increase the risk of all the different types of skin cancer, basically,” he said.

The type of skin cancer also matters, according to Staren. The different kinds of skin cancer are characterized by which layer of skin the cancer originates from.

By the numbers:

  • Nearly 4 million basal cell carcinoma cases in the United States per year
  • 2 million squamous cell carcinoma cases in the United States per year
  • 100,000 melanoma cases in the United States per year

“The good news about basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma is that they rarely metastisize,” said Staren. “Melanoma is the most aggressive.”

Do genetics play a part in risk factors?

Yes. According to Staren, the biggest things to pay attention to are family and personal histories. Fair-skinned people with blue or green eyes are traditionally more at risk.

“Knowing that your family has a history or that you have a personal history, you certainly need to pay attention to that. We do know that there’s certain genetic markers that predispose to it, but without question, it is important.” 

Are dark-skinned people also at risk?

According to Staren, cases in people with dark skin are 1/20th of those with fair skin, but that doesn’t mean those with darker skin should let their guard down.

“They can happen, and they develop in areas that we wouldn’t think of,” he said. “Underneath the fingernails, the palms of the hand, the soles of the feet, and there is squamous cells within various areas of the body, the esophagus, the anus, etc. So, they can develop skin cancer.”

Dr. Edgar Staren, Arizona Oncology

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