May is Skin Cancer Prevention/Detection Month. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, more people over the past thirty years have been diagnosed with skin cancer than all other cancers combined. Take time this month to learn the basics about this type of cancer that is treatable when detected early.
Are all skin cancers life threatening?
The short answer is no. There are two categories of skin cancer: Melanoma and nonmelanoma. The two most common types of skin cancer, carcinoma and squamous basal cell carcinoma, are classified as nonmelanoma and aren’t usually life threatening. Both types progress slowly and rarely beyond the skin. They are easily detectable and curable.
Melanoma is an aggressive form that spreads faster than other types of skin cancer. It can start in a heavily pigmented tissue, like a mole or birthmark, but can also be found in normally pigmented skin. It’s readily detectable and can be cured if treated early. But it can quickly spread to other parts of the body, at which point it becomes difficult to treat and is incurable.
How can skin cancer be prevented?
The primary cause of skin cancer is ultraviolet sun radiation (UV rays). Avoid excessive and intense exposure to these rays. This goes beyond time outdoors. Sunlamps and tanning booths operate with these same rays.
The hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. are when the sun’s UV rays are strongest. If possible, stay indoors during these hours. If you will be spending time in the sun, use sunscreen. Apply it every two hours or more often if you are swimming or sweating (it washes off). Look for sunscreen with an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of 15 or higher. Women who spend time outdoors should consider using makeup that contains SPF.
Cover up! Wear long-sleeved clothing and a hat to avoid long-term sun exposure. Check your skin regularly for changes. If you notice new moles or lesions or changes to current ones, have a doctor take a look.
Are you at risk for developing skin cancer?
Anyone with prolonged or intense exposure to the sun’s UV rays is at risk. Do you recall experiencing a blistering sunburn as a child? Do you have long-term, frequent exposure to intense UV rays now? If so, your risk is higher than others. Additionally, people with fair skin who tend to burn easily or burn more than tan have a higher risk, as do those with a high prevalence of skin moles, lesions or freckles. You also increase your chances if there is a family history of skin cancer.
How can you self-check for skin cancer?
The best way to determine if a mole is cancerous is to have it checked by a dermatologist. Those falling in the high-risk category should have their skin checked regularly. Someone who is concerned about a particular mole should follow the “ABCDE” guide to determine if a visit to the doctor is warranted:
- A= Assymetry (one half of the mole is unlike the other)
- B=Border (an irregular or poorly defined border)
- C=Color (Not a consistent color, and shades such as tan, brown/black, white, red and blue are present)
- D=Diameter (Melanomas are usually wider than 6mm or the size of a pencil eraser)
- E = Evolving (A mole changes shape or color overtime)