Skin cancer is more common than all other cancers combined. Most skin cancers are preventable and can usually be treated with success if detected early. Skin cancers are usually caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays. Most of this UV exposure comes from the sun, although tanning lamps and beds also emit UV rays.
May is Skin Cancer Prevention and Detection Month, and a good time to learn how you can prevent skin cancer and improve chances for early detection.
What is Skin Cancer?
Skin cancers are cancers that begin in the cells of the skin. Cancers that begin in other parts of the body and then spread to the skin are not categorized as skin cancer.
Three kinds of cancer account for the vast majority of skin cancers. These are basal cell, squamous cell and melanoma. Basal cell skin cancers begin in basal cells and squamous cell skin cancer begin in squamous cells. Both basal and squamous cell skin cancers are less likely than melanomas to become life threatening. However, they can grow large enough to cause complications in nearby organs and tissues if left untreated.
Melanomas begin in cells called melanocytes. These are the cells that give skin its color. Although melanomas are not as common as basal and squamous cell skin cancers, they are usually more serious.
Skin Cancer Prevention
Because UV rays are the most common cause of skin cancer, limiting exposure to UV rays is critical to skin cancer prevention. This means limiting your exposure to the sun. Remember that damage from the sun can also occur in the winter months – for instance, while skiing. There are several steps you can take to keep yourself safe. Individuals desiring a tan may want to consider sunless tanning lotion.
- Seek shade or shelter when the sun’s rays are strongest. The sun’s rays are generally strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Cover exposed skin with clothing. Wearing long-sleeved shirt and pants or long skirts limits exposure to UV rays. Be aware that UV rays can penetrate some clothing, particularly light-colored and lightweight items.
- Use sunscreen. When outdoors in the sun, apply sunscreen liberally and frequently. It is important to pay attention to the sun protection factor (SPF) values of your sunscreen. Sunscreens with an SPF of 30 or above should be used.
- Wear a hat and sunglasses. A brimmed hat can protect areas like the ears, eyes, forehead and scalp. Sunglasses with UV ray protection help to protect the delicate skin around the eyes.
- Stay away from tanning lamps and beds. Like the sun, these are also sources of UV rays.
Early Detection of Skin Cancer
Skin cancers are most often detected during skin exams. You should have your physician examine your skin for signs of skin cancer. You should also examine your own skin once per month. Standing in front of a mirror, examine the skin on your head, face and torso. You can use a handheld mirror to examine your back, the back of your thighs and your genitals.
When performing a self-exam, there are several signs to look for.
- Pale or yellowish patches that appear similar to scars.
- Raised areas that appear reddish.
- Small bumps that appear pink, red or translucent.
- Pink or red, translucent, shiny, pearly bumps, which might have blue, brown, or black areas.
- Open sores that don’t heal or return.
- Scaly red patches that may bleed.
- Wart-like bumps and growths
- Moles that are asymmetrical, have irregular borders, are larger than around one-quarter of an inch across, discolored or changing drastically.
Whenever you are in the sun, take steps to protect yourself from the sun and prevent skin cancer. To learn more about skin cancer, please contact us.