With a little diligence and common sense, you can prevent skin cancer or catch it at its earliest, most treatable stages.
Skin cancer is among the most commonly diagnosed forms of cancer. Typically caused by exposure to ultraviolet radiation from sunshine or tanning beds, the potential for the disease is often planted at a time in our lives when we are not as cautious about the harm it can do.
Usually, most of the damage from the sun occurs before the age of 20. Even if you’ve changed your lifestyle and you’re not an outdoor person any more, if you were previously, you should be more aware of your skin.
You may be at higher risk for skin cancer if you have a family history of the disease, had several blistering sunburns when you were child and particularly if you frequent tanning beds. Watch for symptoms, which include spots on your skin that do not heal, are itchy or change colors.
It’s helpful to remember the ‘ABCDE’s of warning signs, too:
- Asymmetry, or spots that have unusual shapes
- Borders, or spots that have irregular edges
- Color, or odd shades or changes in color
- Diameter, or a spot that is larger in diameter than a typical pencil eraser
- Evolution, anything that changes over time
As with any cancers, early detection is the key to avoiding long-term or potentially fatal effects.
The easiest was to decrease your risk of skin cancer is to avoid prolonged exposure to the sun. Stay out of the sun during peak daylight hours, which tend to be between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. every day. Apply broad spectrum sunscreen (which protects against Ultraviolent ‘A’ and Ultraviolet ‘B’ rays) with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 15 every 30 minutes or so and make sure it is water resistant if you plan on going in the water. Also, wear protective clothing like long-sleeved shirts and hats.
Everyone is at risk for developing skin cancer, even those who do not usually get sunburns. The important thing to remember is to protect yourself and to pay attention to any changes going on with your skin.
It is preventable and if you find it early, it’s very treatable.
Common Forms of Skin Cancer
Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) is the most common form. BCCs are abnormal growths or lesions that form in the skin’s basal cells. They often look like open sores, red patches, pink growths, shiny bumps, or scars. BCC can be highly disfiguring if allowed to grow, but almost never spreads beyond the original tumor site.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common type. SCCs often form in the upper layers of the skin and resemble scaly red patches, open sores, warts or elevated growths with a central depression. It is more aggressive than Basal Cell Carcinoma.
Melanoma is the most dangerous form. Melanomas often resemble moles and some of them actually develop from moles. Melanomas are usually black or brown, but they can also be skin-colored, pink, red or white - and even purple or blue. Caught early, melanoma is treatable but left unchecked it can spread to other parts of the body. About 8,700 people die from it every year.