As people live longer, they spend more time in the sun. But for half a million Americans each year, the result can be cancer -- and possibly fatal. MALIGNANT MELANOMA Cases:
26,000 a year.
5,800 a year.
Unusual skin conditions, such as scaliness, oozing or bleeding. A mole that changes shape, color or size or that becomes ulcerated or bleeds easily from a small injury. A new bump or nodule. A pigmented spot that spreads or becomes tender, itchy or painful.
Excessive sun exposure or severe sunburn in childhood. Fair complexion. Occupational exposure to coal tar, creosote, pitch, arsenic compounds or radium.
Avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Wear protective clothing. Use a sunscreen, especially one containing PABA, or para- aminobenzoic acid. Do a self-examination once a month.
Surgery, used in 90 percent of cases; radiation therapy; electrodessication -- tissue destruction by heat; or cryosurgery -- freezing affected tissue.
Overall 5-year survival rate for malignant melanoma in white* patients is 80 percent; for localized malignant melanoma, 89 percent; for malignant melanoma detected after it has spread elsewhere in the body, 46 percent.
SQUAMOUS-CELL AND BASAL-CELL CARCINOMAS Cases:
Of more than 500,000 cases of skin cancer each year, the vast majority are basal or squamous-cell cancers, which rarely metastasize, or spread, but can cause damage to skin tissue.
Of an estimated 7,800 skin cancer deaths a year, 2,000 are attributed to either basal- or squamous-cell cancers.
New skin growths, particularly emergence of a pale, waxlike, pearly nodule or a red, scaly, sharply outlined patch. Changes in appearance or sensation of small sections of skin.
Survival rates: Nearly 100 percent, with early detection and treatment -- usually minor surgery to freeze or scrape off the cancer cells. *Among blacks, because of heavy protective skin pigmentation, skin cancer is rare. Source: American Cancer Society, "Cancer Facts & Figures, 1987."