Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S. According to the American Cancer Society, more skin cancers are diagnosed in the United States than all other cancers combined. Most cancers occur because of overexposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, but exposure to those rays can also come from tanning beds and sun lamps.
While you may think of exposure happening while lying on the beach or sitting by the pool, we’re exposed to ultraviolet rays every day, even just driving around town.
What is Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer occurs when certain cells in the skin begin to grow abnormally, forming tumors. This can occur when the DNA in skin cells are damaged, often due to ultraviolet radiation, such as from overexposure to the sun.
A number of types of cancer exist, but three are the most prevalent: basal cell skin cancer, squamous cell skin cancer and melanoma.
- Basal cell skin cancer: the most frequently occurring of all cancers, four million cases of this kind of cancer are diagnosed in the U.S. each year. This cancer is found in the skin’s basal cells, which are found in the outermost layer of the skin. This type of cancer rarely spreads but could be disfiguring if not treated.
- Squamous cell cancer: the second most common type of skin cancer, this cancer can occur in all areas of the body but is most commonly found in areas often exposed to the sun. Each year, more than one million people are diagnosed with this type of cancer, and incidences of this type of cancer has increased.
- Melanoma: the most dangerous type of skin cancer, this may be caused by intense exposure to sun, such as sunburn, and particularly in people who are genetically predisposed to the disease. While it is one of the rarer types of skin cancer, it causes the most deaths, killing more than 10,000 people in the U.S. each year.
Skin cancer is indeed serious, but there is room for optimism. When it is detected and removed early, it is highly curable.
Detecting Skin Cancer
Anyone can get skin cancer, regardless of your skin color. That’s why it’s essential to recognize any abnormalities. While you should talk with your doctor to find out how often you should get your skin examined (that determination may be different if you’re at a higher risk), you should be familiar with your skin and able to notice any changes.
The American Cancer Society provides an easy to follow guide on how to do a monthly skin check, including those sometimes forgotten areas like the scalp, the back or the bottom of the feet.
Contact your doctor if you find any changes such as:
- A mole that changes color, texture, shape, size
- A skin growth that gets bigger
- A spot or sore that itches, hurts, scabs (not due to a known injury)
- An open sore that doesn’t heal in three weeks
Preventing Skin Cancer
Most skin cancers are curable, but your odds are even better if you don’t develop skin cancer in the first place. Since the sun’s rays are a primary cause of skin cancer, avoiding being exposed when the sun’s rays are strongest can keep you safer. If you must be exposed, wear protective clothing, including a hat with a wide brim and sunglasses.
Use sunscreen. Every day. Dermatologists recommend using a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays, is water resistant and that has an SPF 30 or higher. Keep in mind that sunscreen isn’t just for warm days. Sand, water and snow can reflect the rays and UV rays can still burn on cloudy days, so wear sun protection year-round. If you’re outside, reapply every two hours, and don’t forget to protect your lips with a lip balm containing sun protection. Also, avoid tanning beds and be sure to check your skin monthly for any changes.
By being diligent in preventing and detecting skin cancer, you give yourself the best chance for good health.
Are you interested in learning more about skin cancer?
Skin cancers are the most common form of cancer. They include several types, such as melanomas and non-melanomas. Our team, which includes dermatologists, oncologists and surgeons, will work together to develop the best treatment plan for you.