Skin Cancer: Prevention is Worth It
Each May, National Skin Cancer Awareness Month is observed nationwide in an effort to educate the public about the dangers of skin cancer. Year-round, our doctors, our friends and even our favorite talk show hosts remind us to wear sunscreen and hats, and to limit sun exposure. Despite these warnings, approximately two million people will be diagnosed with skin cancer this year. About 68,000 of these cases will be melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer.
According to Kathy Boozer, Nurse Practitioner at Parkview Rural Health Clinic, there are three main types of skin cancer, including non-melanoma basal cell carcinoma, non-melanoma squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma.
Non-melanoma basal cell carcinoma and non-melanoma squamous cell carcinoma are usually found on sun-exposed areas of the body, such as the face, lips, neck, ears and back of the hands. They typically don’t spread to other parts of the body and have a high likelihood of being cured if detected and treated early.
Melanoma, much more serious than the two forms of skin cancer mentioned above, is the most common type of skin cancer among young adults. Originating in the cells that produce skin coloring and pigmentation – called melanocytes – melanoma is below the surface and, therefore, more difficult to detect and diagnose. Malignant melanoma accounts for about 8,700 of the 11,790 skin cancer-related deaths each year.
According to the American Cancer Society, skin cancer is often curable, if caught and treated in its early stages. Symptoms of skin cancer include:
- Any change in the size or color of a mole or other darkly pigmented growth or spot;
- Any new skin growth;
- The spread of pigmentation beyond a growth’s border, such as dark coloring that spreads past the edge of a mole or mark; or
- A change in sensation, itchiness, tenderness or pain of a growth or spot.
- Scaliness, oozing, bleeding or change in the overall appearance of a bump or nodule;
While unprotected sun exposure has been strongly linked to skin cancer, the American Cancer Society suggests these other skin cancer risk factors:
- Unprotected and/or excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation, such as that used in a tanning bed;
- A history of severe sunburns.
- Fair complexion;
- Family history;
- Multiple or atypical moles; and
- Occupational exposures to coal tar, pitch, creosote, arsenic compounds or radium;
“Being aware of risk factors and ensuring you get regular skin exams by your physician can greatly reduce your chances of developing skin cancer,” says Boozer. “It’s also important to get suspicious moles or other growths looked at as soon as they’re discovered. Skin cancer can be highly treatable, but early detection is critical.”
Consider these tips for helping prevent skin cancer:
- Avoid prolonged sun exposure, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15+ every day.
- When going outside for extended periods, reapply sunscreen every two hours and cover up with clothing, including a hat and UV-blocking sunglasses, whenever possible.
- Examine your skin from head-to-toe every month, and see your physician for a professional skin exam each year.
- Keep newborns out of the sun, as sunscreens should only be used on babies over the age of six months.