The Memorial Day weekend is over. Summer, in all its heated glory, will soon burst wide open. And as noses peel and the sunburn heals, the seasonal exhortation has been proclaimed: Watch out for lip cancer.
Lip cancer is on the rise. This year, the American Cancer Society anticipates that more than 4,500 Americans will be afflicted with this white, crusty, scaly disease. Nearly 175 people will die of it.
The facts are these:
--White males, particularly if fair-skinned, are the major target. They are 14 times more likely to get lip cancer than women.
--Lip cancer is the most prevalent of all oral cancers--tongue, mouth, and throat. About 30% of mouth cancers strike the lips.
--Those inflicted with lip cancer have more than a 95% chance of full recovery.
--The lower lip is 10 to 60 times more likely to contract lip cancer than the upper lip.
--Surfers, lifeguards, farmers, construction workers and others who work and play a great deal under the sun stand the greatest risk of contacting lip cancer.
Sun, Not Tobacco
The sun is the villain, the medical community agrees. No positive connection has yet been made between cigarette or cigar smoking and lip cancer, doctors said.
Unlike skin cancer, lip cancer can, if untreated, spread quickly to other parts of the body--usually the neck--because of the blood supply and lymphatic tissue in the lip, said Dr. Laurence David, chief of laser surgery at the Hermosa Skin Medical Clinic in Hermosa Beach.
David said lip cancer does not afflict women to the same degree as men because the lipstick many of them wear acts as protective block, filtering out the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays.
Lip cancer, known as squamous cell carcinoma, manifests itself in a raw, warty-looking growth which can thicken and harden in its final stages, and maybe even bleed, said Dr. Steven Lutzker, a dermatologist in Lakewood.
“Sometimes the lip has to be surgically removed,” Lutzker said. “I’ve had to take out as much as a third of the lower lip and then sew it together.”
However, Lutzker said, although scarring results from the operation, the patient usually heals within a few weeks.
“You see a patient with lip cancer and you have to maybe cut off half their lip. But after a short while, it’ll look a little tight. But then it straightens out. It’s really amazing how flexible the lip is,” he said.
Dr. Leo Indianer, also a dermatologist at the Hermosa clinic, said the lower lip is more prone to cancer because it protrudes and receives the heaviest dose of sunlight.
“While many people are using sunscreens to protect themselves, they are neglecting to put these on their lips,” David said. “In Southern California, where we virtually have summer 12 months a year, we all have to be especially careful, even when it’s not sunny outdoors.”