As we all know, Memorial Day is the beginning of summer! Forget the calendar and head to the beaches! But don’t—please don’t—forget sun safety.
This year, over 10,000 Americans will die from melanoma. That’s about 1 person every hour. Some 160,000 people will be diagnosed with melanoma. And that’s not counting other types of skin cancer. No wonder May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month!
What Causes Skin Cancer?
Exposure to UV (ultraviolet) rays causes skin cancer most commonly. Either from long-term exposure or short-term intense exposure, UV rays damage the DNA (genetic material) in our cells, causing some to mutate into cancerous cells. Cumulative exposure results most often in basal cell or squamous cell cancers that are quite curable when treated early. Intense exposure, usually before age 18, can cause melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer but for which survival rates are good when treated early.
Most people encounter UV rays from the sun, usually during summer months (and even on cloudy days). But UV rays from tanning salons are just as dangerous and should be avoided. Less common causes include repeated exposure to X-rays or hazardous chemicals.
Anyone can get skin cancer, although fair-toned persons are at greater risk.
What Skin Cancer Symptoms Should I Look For?
There are basically 4 things to look for, since different types of skin cancer present slightly different symptoms.
1. Actinic Keratosis (AK). These are pre-cancerous lesions that often appear as dry, scaly spots or patches of red rash or slightly raised skin. People might have several on the scalp, face, neck, arms, or other parts of the body. They can be easily removed by a dermatologist, but they are a sign of risk of skin cancer. Left untreated, they can develop into squamous cell cancer.
2. Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC). This is the most common type of skin cancer, accounting for about 95% of cases. When detected early, survival rates are very high. These cancers are usually flesh-colored with pearl or white bumps. Early detection is important because they can grow into surrounding tissue and cause other problems.
3. Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC). The second most common type of skin cancer, SCC appears usually as a red bump with a scaly patch. It can also appear as an open sore that heals, but reopens. SCC sites can occur on nearly any part of the body. Early detection allows treatment that will prevent this form of skin cancer from spreading to other areas.
4. Melanoma. Compared to other types, melanoma is relatively rare, but much more deadly. It often appears as an enlarged, irregularly shaped mole. Close examination of moles that follows this acronym can often detect melanoma:
A = Asymmetry (one half differs from the other)
B = Border (irregular, poorly defined border)
C = Color (usually shades of tan, brown or black, but sometimes white or red)
D = Diameter (often about the size of a pencil eraser)
E = Evolving (growing larger or changing shape or color)
If you suspect that a mole or other abnormal spot might be melanoma, see a dermatologist at once. Left untreated, melanoma can spread to other body parts and become life-threatening.
For more information about different types of skin cancer, symptoms, and treatment, visit the American Academy of Dermatology website.
How Can I Prevent Skin Cancer?
We can all prevent skin cancer by following these simple steps.
· Avoid unprotected exposure to sunlight during the summer, especially between the hours of 10:00am and 4:00pm. (Cloudy days offer no significant protection.)
· When outside, apply sunscreen rated at SPF 30 or higher to all exposed skin liberally and often.
· Do not expose infants (younger than 6 months) to direct sunlight. Make sure that children are protected by sunscreen and/or clothing that UV rays cannot penetrate.
· Avoid tanning salons.
· Be careful around water, snow, and sand, since these surfaces can reflect UV rays.
· Keep a close eye on moles, rashes, scaly patches of skin, or other areas that appear abnormal. If any of these areas change in appearance, have them checked by a health care professional.
· Get a complete body scan by a dermatologist or other health care professional once per year, especially if you are at high risk. Remember that skin cancer can arise later in life because of sun damage caused during childhood or adolescent years.
As always, if you have questions or need treatment for overexposure to the sun, come to Kathy’s Urgent Care. We’re here to help.
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