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    Spotting Skin Cancer

    Think you're not at risk? You may be ignoring the signs.

    WebMD Feature

    May 29, 2000 -- When 31-year-old J.T. Fields saw an odd-looking "freckle" growing on the bridge of his nose, he did what comes naturally to men: He ignored it.

    J.T. was shocked when the "freckle" turned out to be skin cancer. Thankfully, it was squamous cell cancer, one of two types of non-melanoma skin cancers (the other is basal cell cancer) that have a better than 95% cure rate if detected early.

    Like J.T., "most men ignore changes or symptoms in their skin when they first occur," says Christopher Arpey, MD, University of Iowa assistant professor of dermatology. "Men are much more likely [than women] to think a skin abnormality will go away on its own, even if it's itching, bleeding, or hurting."

    This certainly rang true for J.T. "I thought it was a zit," he said. "Even when it bled, I thought, 'hmm -- how did I get that bruise?' " In fact, it was almost by accident that he even asked a doctor about it. J.T. went to see a dermatologist for another problem. "While I was there," he said, "I pointed to it and asked him what he thought it was." His doctor took a careful look and calmly told him it was probably skin cancer.

    However calmly stated, it's a serious diagnosis. Men are much more likely than women to die from skin cancer or suffer deformities from surgery to remove it. Though men are at only a slightly higher risk of developing skin cancer than women, the real challenge is getting a diagnosis and then getting treatment earlier.

    The Big Picture

    More than 1.3 million Americans will get skin cancer this year. It's the most common type of cancer among men. Nearly all cases will be basal or squamous cell cancers, which affect the middle and outer layers of the skin. Fewer than 4% (about 45,000 cases) will be the more deadly melanoma, a cancer of melanocytes, the cells that produce the skin pigment called melanin. While there are other factors, such as aging and genetic vulnerability, exposure to ultraviolet rays is a major factor in all three types.

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