Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed type of cancer in the United States, with 1 million people being diagnosed annually. Melanoma is the most aggressive and deadly form of skin cancer, but fortunately, it’s also the rarest. In the majority of cases, skin cancer is not life-threatening. Early diagnosis is key, especially in regard to melanoma, which if detected early has a high survival rate. Here are 10 skin cancer prevention facts you need to know to keep yourself safe.
What Is Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer is caused by the development and multiplication of abnormal cells within the skin. Excessive exposure to UV radiation from the sun can damage DNA in the skin cells, producing mutations and genetic defects that can lead to cancer. Skin cancer initially manifests as precancerous lesions or dysplasia. Dysplastic changes include actinic keratosis, which presents as red or brown scaly areas on the skin, and as moles that can be either raised or flat, oval or round, and in various shades.
Healthy moles usually measure no more than 1/4 inch in diameter. Interestingly, most people have between 10-30 moles on their bodies. Dysplastic nevi, are abnormal moles, that have the potential to become cancer. It’s possible to have up to 100 of these abnormal moles, which are distinguished by irregular shapes and borders, a larger diameter than normal moles, and a rough surface. They can be brown, red, tan, or pink in color.
Risk factors for skin cancer include having a family member that has had the disease, having red hair and skin that burns easily, and having numerous moles, or moles that are atypical.
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Types Of Skin Cancer
There are three types of skin cancer:
1. Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC): The majority of skin cancers fall within this category. Basal cell cancers can be malignant, but typically don’t spread. If not treated in the early stages, they can be disfiguring.
2. Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC): This is the second most common type of skin cancer, manifesting as rapid, abnormal growth of squamous cells, which are continuously-shedding cells near the skin’s surface. Most cases of squamous cell carcinoma are curable if detected early, with only a small percentage becoming metastatic in those with compromised immunity.
3. Melanoma: A rare, aggressive type of skin cancer that can spread to other areas of the body. It is caused by the uncontrollable growth of melanocytes, which are skin cells that produce melanin. Melanoma makes up a small percentage of skin cancers, but can be fatal if not diagnosed and treated in the early stages. It is one of the most rapidly spreading cancers. It accounts for up to 75% of all skin cancer deaths.
Basal and squamous cell skin cancers are referred to as non-melanoma cancers or NMSC. Less common types of skin cancer include dermatofibrosarcoma protruberans and Merkel cell tumors.
Symptoms Of Skin Cancer
- Any new growth on the skin
- Red or brown rough, scaly patches
- Sores that become crusty and/or bleed
- Sores that don’t heal
- Changes in existing spots or moles
- Itchy and tender spots
- Painful moles
- Bumps that appear on a mole
- Swelling or redness around a mole
Use the ABCDE mnemonic to detect potential signs of cancer:
A: Stands for asymmetry. Does each half of the mole look different? Normal moles are symmetrical.
B: Stands for border. Is the border of an existing mole uneven, scalloped, or irregular? The borders of normal moles have sharp edges.
C: Stands for color: Has the mole changed in hue or is it multicolored? Healthy moles are usually a single, evenly-distributed color.
D: Stands for diameter. Is the mole bigger than a pencil eraser, measuring larger than 6 millimeters? Malignant moles are generally larger than normal ones. However, this isn’t always the case, as small moles can also become malignant and normal moles can be large.
E. Stands for evolution. If you’ve noticed that any of the moles on your body have changed, or evolved, in any respect, immediately schedule an appointment with your dermatologist, who will determine if a biopsy is needed. This is why consistent self-exams are so crucial.
Healthy moles don’t change or grow, particularly in adults. If a spot or mole changes in terms of size, color, shape, texture, or border, it warrants further investigation. Also, spots or moles that itch or bleed could signal that something isn’t right.
Not all skin cancers are caused by moles so don’t just access them. Look for any lump, spot, or patch that looks suspicious. Another warning sign could be a mole that doesn’t resemble the other moles on your body, especially if it’s changing in any way.
10 Skin Cancer Prevention Tips
Be diligent in following these 10 tips to reduce the chances of developing melanoma or any type of skin cancer:
1. Be Aware And Access
Do a skin check at least every month to access for new growths or changes in existing moles. Check every area of your body, not just your arms and legs, but all nooks and crannies, including your scalp and entire neck area.
Check underneath your nails and between your toes. Use a handheld mirror when needed. The most common areas that skin cancer develops are the head, face, neck, and shoulders.
2. Wear A Hat And Sunglasses
A broad-brimmed hat can provide up to 70% protection from the sun’s rays. The other 30% will be reflected upwards from the ground. This is why sunscreen is so important. A hat will protect your scalp and neck from sun exposure, and to a lesser degree your shoulders, all high-risk areas.
Light-colored clothing is not as protective as dark-colored clothing, offering an equivalent sun protection factor of only 4. Lightweight fabrics are less protective than thicker ones. Opt for polarized sunglasses, that will not only shield the delicate skin around your eyes, but will also prevent cataracts, and eyelid cancers.
3. Avoid Peak Hours
If you’ll be out in the sun during peak hours, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., always find shady areas for protection. If possible, plan outdoor activities outside of peak times. Remember to protect yourself all year long. As you likely know, you can still get burned in the winter. Snow, and other reflective surfaces, like water and sand, intensify sun exposure.
4. Say No To Tanning Booths
This should be a no-brainer, but avoid tanning booths, which crank up the UVA radiation exposure up to fives times the amount you’d get from natural sunlight. UVA rays penetrate deeply into the skin and cause photoaging. Tanning beds dial down UVB, which is responsible for Vitamin D production.
There is considerable evidence that melanoma risk significantly increases with tanning-bed use before the age of 30. Avoid sun lamps as well. Sun exposure from natural sunlight and tanning beds are primary causes of skin cancer.
5. Use A Broad Spectrum Sunscreen
Use a broad spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, and apply every hour, especially if you’ve been in the water or have been sweating. As a matter of course, most sunscreens have UVB protection, but may not provide protection against UVA rays. Read the ingredient label before buying to assure it protects against both.
Don’t use sunscreens that contain vitamin A. Studies have shown that it may increase melanoma-risk by initiating excessive skin and tumor growth on areas exposed to the sun, while also causing free-radical damage, which is harmful to DNA.
6. Don’t Put Sunscreen On Babies Under Six Months Of Age
Keep newborn babies out of the sun. You can apply sunscreen to babies over six months old, but an even better choice would be to keep them in the shade if possible, to avoid their exposure to toxic chemicals. Children and teenagers have thinner skin, making them more vulnerable to UV radiation.
Skin cancer is correlated with past sun exposure, including blistering sunburns you had as a child. Protect your children while they are young to reduce their cancer risk in adulthood.
7. Live A Healthy Lifestyle
Keep your immune system functioning at full capacity by engaging in healthy lifestyle strategies, such as getting proper nutrition, moving regularly, getting enough sleep, and taking time for self-care.
Also, make sure you are getting adequate vitamin D, an essential nutrient for proper immunity. It only takes a few minutes of sun exposure to get your daily dose. Cover up after that.
Get your vitamin D levels tested here
8. Prevent Sunburns
One sunburn that peels can double your risk of developing melanoma. And remember, you still need sunscreen on cloudy days because of the ability of UV rays to penetrate clouds. It’s also possible to burn after peak hours, even well into the evening when the sun is low in the sky. The short UVB rays will be filtered out, but not the long, penetrating UVA rays.
9. Dark Skinned People Are Not The Exception
Everyone must take precautionary sun-protection measures, even those who have olive skin and don’t burn. People who don’t burn often have a false sense of security that prevents them from protecting themselves, putting them at higher risk unnecessarily.
Those with light skin, along with light hair and eyes, should be extra cautious because they don’t have the protective melanin in their skin that darker skinned people do.
10. See Your Doctor Immediately If You Notice Anything Suspicious
Make an appointment with your doctor if you detect any new growth or suspicious growth on your skin. If he doesn’t take it seriously, get a second opinion. If you thought it was serious enough to get it checked out, it probably is. Trust your gut.
Also, read the contraindications for any medications you are taking as some, including antibiotics, antihistamines, blood pressure medications, statins, and NSAIDs, can make your skin more susceptible to UV radiation.
Incidences of skin cancer have been on the rise for decades. Awareness, education, and early diagnosis are key to reducing skin cancer risk. Be cognizant of any changes on your skin, by performing self-exams every month, wear a hat, sunglasses, and other protective clothing, and use a sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30.
To prevent any disease, live a healthy lifestyle to keep your immune system strong, make sure your vitamin D levels are in a healthy range, and see your doctor as soon as possible if you notice any changes in existing moles or other suspicious spots. Use common sense in every area of your life to reduce your risk of developing any type of cancer.
Have you or someone you know had skin cancer? Let me know in the comments by sharing your experience:)
(1) City of Hope: Skin Cancer And Melanoma
(2) WebMD: Skin Cancer
(3) Skin Cancer Foundation: Squamous Cell Carcinoma Overview
(4) American Cancer Society: Can Melanoma Skin Cancer Be Prevented?
(5) American Academy of Dermatology Association: Skin Cancer
(6) Healthgrades: The Dangers of Teens and Tanning Beds
(7) EWG: The Problem With Vitamin A
(8) Prevention: 6 Melanoma Symptoms You Should Tell Your Doctor About ASAP
(9) Cancer Council: How ultraviolet (UV) radiation causes skin cancer
Disclaimer: This article is strictly for informational purposes only and is not intended to be medical advice. Please be diligent and always do your own research in regard to any material I present on this site. I claim no responsibility for any distress, whether it be physical or emotional, that may occur as a result of the information you obtain from my blog.