As warmer, pleasant weather approaches, it is important to remember the threat skin cancer poses and what to do to prevent it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is the most common form of cancer in the United States.
There are three types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma, which is the least common, but the deadliest of the three.
“When caught early, melanoma is curable by a simple excision,” said Maj. Amanda Laska, a dermatologist at General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital. “However, all melanoma has the potential to spread to the lymph nodes and even organs inside the body.”
According to the National Institute of Health’s National Cancer Institute, melanoma rates have been increasing in the U.S. for the past 30 years, but recognizing the risk factors may help in prevention.
The CDC and NCI state that anyone can get skin cancer, but certain characteristics put some people at higher risk than others, such as:
— A lighter natural skin color.
— A personal history of severe sunburns, especially as a child or teenager.
— 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.
— A family history of skin cancer.
— A personal history of skin cancer.
— Older age.
Laska added that indoor tanning should also be avoided.
“People who use indoor tanning beds are at a higher risk for melanoma,” she said. “Even one exposure increases risk 20 to 40 times.”
For more information on skin cancer risk factors, visit https://www.cancer.gov/types/skin/hp/skin-genetics-pdq.
Limiting UV exposure
Even if one is not predisposed to skin cancer, officials recommend limiting ultraviolet radiation exposure.
“Most people don’t wear sunscreen day-to-day because they think only prolonged exposures are a risk for skin cancer,” Laska said. “It is actually the small exposures to the sun we get in our daily activities that add up over time to lead to skin cancer. Also, getting a baseline tan going … is not protective against skin cancer and, in fact, increases one’s risk.”
Everyone is exposed to at least minimal levels of UV radiation from sunlight, and according to the CDC, it takes as little as 15 minutes for the sun to damage skin. However, protecting oneself from the sun now can help reduce chances of skin cancer later.
“People should wear SPF 30 sunscreen daily, even on cloudy and rainy days,” she said. “They should apply it to their face, neck, and backs of the hands.”
Here are additional tips from the CDC to help mitigate the risk of skin cancer from UV exposure:
— The most dangerous UV rays come during the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. If there is yard work to do, try to knock it out early in the morning or later in the evening.
— A tan does not necessarily indicate good health. Injured skin cells produce more pigment, leading to a tan.
— Wear sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays.
— Wear a wide-brim hat that covers the neck, ears, face and head.
— Use sunscreen with broad spectrum protection (UVA and UVB).
Officials also encourage people to stay aware of their surroundings and stay hydrated. Many people take boats out on lakes, rivers and creeks. Because water reflects sunlight, it is easier to become dehydrated and sunburnt when afloat.
The symptoms of skin cancer can be spotted, and people should take note if they notice any changes, Laska said.
“Melanoma is usually a dark brown or black bump that appears on the skin,” she said. “It can appear anywhere on the skin, including areas that are protected from sun exposure like the scalp, bottoms of the feet and groin area.”
“Basal cell carcinoma can affect people of all ages, and can also appear anywhere on the skin,” she added. “Squamous cell carcinoma is more common in older people who have had chronic sun exposure. Both areas show up as non-healing bumps, scabs that don’t heal or spots that bleed easily.
The CDC reminds people on its website that not all skin cancers look the same, and only trained medical professionals should be sought for their guidance.
To identify the signs of melanoma, the CDC suggests people remember this simple mnemonic device: A, B, C, D, E.
— “A” stands for asymmetrical. Does the mole or spot have an irregular shape with two parts that look very different?
— “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?
“For people concerned about skin lesions, I recommend they start with their primary care manager who will determine if a biopsy is needed,” Laska said. “The PCM may then refer them to a board-certified dermatologist for further evaluation.”
Laska added it is important to remember the earlier cancer is detected, the more easily treatable it is.
For more information, visit the CDC’s Sun Safety webpage at https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/sun-safety.htm.
(Editor’s note: Information provided in this article was taken from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Cancer Institute and U.S. National Library of Medicine.)