What Do You Need to Know About Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. Being exposed to ultraviolet (UV) rays, which are an invisible kind of radiation that comes from the sun, tanning beds, and sunlamps causes most cases of skin cancer.
The two most common types of skin cancer known as carcinomas are basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas. Both of these cancers are highly curable. Another type of skin cancer called melanoma is the third most common skin cancer. Melanoma is more dangerous than basal and squamous cell carcinomas and causes the most deaths from skin cancer.
What Are the Risk Factors for Skin Cancer?
There are some people that have a higher risk for developing skin cancer. Some of the risk factors can vary depending on the type of skin cancer. General risk factors include having:
- A lighter natural skin color.
- Family history of skin cancer.
- A personal history of skin cancer.
- Exposure to the sun through work and play.
- A history of sunburns, especially early in life.
- A history of indoor tanning.
- Skin that burns, freckles, reddens easily, or becomes painful in the sun.
- Blue or green eyes.
- Blond or red hair.
- Certain types and a large number of moles.
Is tanning bad for your skin?
Getting a tan is not a symptom of good health. Tanned skin is an indication from the skin cells that they have been hurt by exposure to UV rays. When skin cells are hurt they produce more pigment or coloring and this is what is seen as tanning.
The way people burn or tan can vary depending on their skin type, the time of year, and how long they are exposed to UV rays. In addition to causing sunburn, too much exposure to UV rays can change skin texture. This can cause the skin to age prematurely and can lead to skin cancer. UV rays can also affect your vision and have been linked to eye conditions such as cataracts.
What Are the Symptoms of Skin Cancer?
The most common sign of skin cancer is a change in your skin. This can be a new mole or a change in an already existing mole, a sore that will not heal properly, or a growth.
Melanoma can have some specific signs. One way to remember the signs of melanoma is to remember the A-B-C-D-Es of melanoma:
- “A” stands for asymmetrical. Does the mole or spot have an irregular shape that is not the same on both sides?
- “B” stands for border. Is the border irregular or jagged?
- “C” is for color. Is the color uneven?
- “D” is for diameter. Is the mole or spot larger than the size of a pea?
- “E” is for evolving. Has the mole or spot changed during the past few weeks or months?
Talk to your doctor if you notice any changes in your skin.
What Can I Do to Reduce My Risk of Skin Cancer?
Lower your risk for skin cancer by protecting yourself from UV radiation. UV rays from the sun can reach you year round, on cloudy days, as well as bright and sunny days. The hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. are the most harmful for UV exposure outdoors. UV rays from sunlight are the greatest during the late spring and early summer. Harmful UV rays also reflect off of certain surfaces like water, sand or snow. Indoor tanning (using a tanning bed, booth, or sunlamp to get tan) can exposes users to UV radiation as well.
To lower your skin cancer risk and protect from UV rays, the CDC recommends these easy options:
- Stay in the shade, especially during midday hours.
- Wear clothing that covers your arms and legs.
- Wear a hat with a wide brim to shade your face, head, ears, and neck.
- Wear sunglasses that wrap around and block both UVA and UVB rays.
- Use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher, and both UVA and UVB (broad spectrum) protection.
- Avoid indoor tanning.
Source: What is Skin Cancer? (2017). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Division of Cancer Prevention and Control.