Beware the damaging rays of the sun

Our sun
Credit: NikoLang; Public Domain; Wikimedia Commons

What You Need to Know About Skin Cancer Now

The American Academy of Dermatology[991] explains that the incidence of skin cancer overall has been steadily rising over the last three decades. Health care providers diagnose 3.5 million cases of skin cancer each year in the United States alone.

People of all skin types and colors develop skin cancer. Fair skinned, light-haired, blue-eyed people have a higher risk of developing skin cancer from exposure to the sun's rays, but people of color are not immune from this disease.

Skin cancer is the most preventable form of cancer, along with being the most often diagnosed type of cancer.  Prevention is the most important aspect of this condition with early detection the second most important key to preventing possible disfigurement or death.

  • 1 in 5 Americans is expected to develop skin cancer in their lifetime[991]
  • Over 65,000 people worldwide die from too much exposure to the sun--mostly from malignant skin cancers, according to the World Health Organization
  • The two most commonly diagnosed forms of skin cancer are basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas. These can be easily treated successfully if diagnosed early.
  • Melanoma, the most virulent of the skin cancers, is also the one least frequently diagnosed. The success of treatment is directly related to the time of diagnosis. An early diagnosis may allow the melanoma to be treated before it has spread to other areas of the body.
  • Even though melanoma is now the third most often diagnosed form of skin cancer, the rate of diagnosis of this disease has been steadily rising for the last three decades.

Know the Risk Factors for Skin Cancer

The more risk factors you have, the higher your likelihood is of developing skin cancer in your lifetime. But -- the absence of risk factors does not mean you cannot develop one of the types of skin carcinomas.

  • Fair skin is a risk factor because such skin has less melatonin that darker skin types, a substance that provides some protection to your skin from the damaging rays of the sun. If you have freckles or sun burn easily, the Mayo Clinic[1000] advises you are at greater risk of developing skin cancer than people without these characteristics.
  • History of sun burns. Each and every sun burn damages the skin, with cumulative effects over the course of your lifetime.
  • Too much exposure to the sun and/or indoor tanning beds and lights.  The Mayo Clinic explains that tanning of your skin is your body's reaction to the injury it has received from ultraviolet rays.
  • Having fifty or more moles, abnormal or atypical moles or a family history of skin cancer have an increased risk of developing the disease.[991]
  • Living in a sunny, warm climate or an area of high altitude exposes you to more or stronger rays of the sun and their harmful effects.
  • Age is a factor. Skin cancers tend to develop slowly, so as you grow older the cumulative effects of sun damage to your skin may cause skin cancer to develop.

Prevention Is Key to Your Skin's Health

Unlike so many other forms of cancer, skin cancer can be prevented by simple measures that help to protect your skin from the sun's ultraviolet waves -- UVA and UVB.

  • Stay away from tanning beds and tanning lamps. If appearing tan is important to you, use one of the many topically applied self-tanning products on the market.
  • Avoid being outdoors in direct sunlight, especially during the hours of 10AM to 2PM.
  • Wear clothing that will help to protect your skin from the sun. Loose weave materials still allow the sun's rays to penetrate to your skin. If you can see through a material, the sun can shine through it.
  • Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from sun damage and the delicate skin around the eye area. Sunglasses are as important in the winter as they are in the summer.
  • Apply a sunscreen with a skin protectant factor --SPF -- of at least 30 before going outdoors. It's important to apply the sunscreen about 30 minutes before going outdoors so your skin has a chance to absorb the product.
  • Use  enough sunscreen. Dermatologists recommend that it takes about an ounce of sunscreen to cover the exposed areas of an adult body.
  • Re-apply sunscreen every two hours, even if the sunscreen is labeled as being waterproof.
  • If you are using skin lotion, apply the lotion first, then the sunscreen over it.

ABCDs of Skin Cancer

ABCDs of Skin Cancer
Credit: National Institutes of Health; Public Domain; Wikimedia Commons

Regular Inspection Leads to Early Detection

The more risk factors you have for developing skin cancer, the more often you should check your skin for the ABCDs of the disease -- or have your family physician or a dermatologist check your skin for you.

The ABCDs of skin cancer are:

  • A is for asymmetry. A non-cancerous mole should be the on both halves. The top left view in the photo shows a mole that is asymmetric.
  • B is for border. The border should be even, without notches or irregularities as seen in the second view from the left top in the photo.
  • C is for color. A mole that has varying colors of tan, brown or black, as in the second view from the left bottom of the photo is suspicious for cancer.
  • D is for diameter. A mole that has grown larger in size or has a diameter greater than 6 millimeters should be considered suspicious, as in the bottom left view of the photo.

If you notice any problems with the ABCDs of your moles or other skin areas, contact your health care provider. He will determine if the area may be skin cancer and proceed accordingly.

Charting moles and other skin concerns on your back and other body parts is difficult to do yourself. Ask a trusted friend, partner or family member to assit you with your skin inspection or ask your health care provider.

A product called Visiderm is available to help you chart the moles on your body. Affordable at less than $15.00, Visiderm helps you to track any changes to moles over time. Rather than just trying to memorize the size, shape and elevation of each mole, Visiderm provides clear sheets for you to place over the mole so you can trace it.