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Summer Prevention Tips- Skin Cancer Awareness

Summer Prevention Tips- Skin Cancer Awareness

July 23, 2015

Skin Cancer Awareness PhotoNow that the dog days of summer are here, remember that too much sun, especially without protection, can pose a serious health risk – skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. It is usually caused by overexposure to the sun’s dangerous UV rays. In fact, there are more new diagnoses of skin cancer each year than the incidences of breast, prostate, lung, and colon cancer combined.

When discussing skin cancer, it is important to understand that there are three major types: basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and melanoma. The first two skin cancers are grouped together as non-melanoma skin cancers. Other unusual types of skin cancer include Merkel cell tumors and dermatofibrosarcoma protruberans.

Here are the basics concerning these skin cancers:

  • The vast majority of skin cancers are basal cell carcinomas and squamous cells carcinomas. While malignant, these are unlikely to spread to other parts of the body. They may be locally disfiguring if not treated early.
  • A small but significant number of skin cancers are malignant melanomas. Malignant melanoma is a highly aggressive cancer that tends to spread to other parts of the body. These cancers may be fatal if not treated early.

Like many cancers, skin cancers start as precancerous lesions. These precancerous lesions are changes in skin that are not cancer, but could become cancer over time. Medical professionals often refer to these changes as dysplasia.

Some specific dysplastic changes that occur in skin are as follows:

  • Actinic keratosis is an area of red or brown, scaly, rough skin, which can develop into squamous cell carcinoma.
  • Moles are simply growths on the skin that rarely develop into cancer. Most people have 10 to 30 moles on their body that can be identified as flat or raised, smooth on the surface, round or oval in shape, pink, tan, brown or skin-colored, and no larger than a quarter-inch across. If a mole on your body looks different from the others, ask your health care provider to take a look at it.
  • Dysplastic nevi, or abnormal moles, are not cancer, but they can become cancer (melanoma). People sometimes have as many as 100 or more dysplastic nevi, which are usually irregular in shape, with notched or fading borders. Some may be flat or raised, and the surface may be smooth or rough (“pebbly”). They are often large, at a quarter-inch across or larger, and are typically of mixed color, including pink, red, tan, and brown.

It is also important to know the risk factors for skin cancer:

  • Overexposure to Ultraviolet (UV) light– Natural sunlight or tanning lamps.
  • Fair skin– The risk of skin cancer is much higher for whites than for dark-skinned African Americans or Hispanics. This is because melanin helps protect against UV radiation.
  • Older age- The risk of basal and squamous cell skin cancers increases as people age.
  • Men- Men are two times as likely as women to have basal cell cancers and about three times as likely to have squamous cell cancers.
  • Chemicals- Exposure to large amounts of arsenic increases the risk of skin cancer. Workers exposed to industrial tar, coal, paraffin, and certain types of oil may have an increased risk, too.
  • Radiation- People who have had radiation treatment have a higher risk of getting skin cancer in the area that was treated.
  • Previously having skin cancer- Anyone who has had one keratinocyte cancer has a much higher chance of having another.
  • Certain long-term or severe skin problems- Scars from bad burns, areas of skin over bad bone infections, and skin damaged by certain skin diseases are more likely to develop skin cancer, but this risk is fairly small.
  • Family diseases- Xeroderma pigmentosum: This very rare disease makes the skin less able to repair sun damage. This disease tends to run in families. People with this disease get many skin cancers, sometimes starting in childhood. Basal cell nevus syndrome: This rare condition is present at birth. It causes some people to have many basal cell cancers. It often runs in families.
  • Weakened immune system- People with weak immune systems are more likely to develop non-melanoma skin cancer. Skin cancers in people with weak immune systems tend to grow faster and are more likely to be fatal.
  • Smoking- Smoking is a risk factor for squamous cell skin cancer, but it is not a known risk for basal cell cancer.
  • Genetics- Scientists have found that certain people are more likely than others to develop skin cancer after sun exposure. In these people, certain parts of the normal cells are more sensitive to being damaged by sunlight.

Here are some important tips for skin cancer prevention:

  • Do Not Burn or Tan
    • Avoid intentional tanning
    • Avoid tanning beds
  • Seek Shade
    • The sun’s rays are the strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Wear Protective Clothing
    • Long-sleeved shirt and pants
    • A wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses
  • Generously Apply Sunscreen
    • Use a broad spectrum sunscreen with Sun Protection Factor (SPF) 30 or higher for protection from ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation
    • Apply 15 minutes before going outdoors and reapply every two hours
  • Use Extra Caution Near Water, Snow, and Sand
    • These surfaces reflect the damaging rays of the sun, which can increase your chance of sunburn
  • Get Vitamin D Safely
    • Through a healthy diet
    • Take vitamin supplements

Early detection of skin cancers can save your life. Carefully examine all of your skin once a month. A new or changing spot on your body should be evaluated promptly by your doctor.

To learn more about skin cancer, please visit www.skincancerprevention.org.