|The facts about skin cancer |
- Skin cancer is the most common of all cancer types.
- In the United States, skin cancer has an estimated incidence of 1 million cases per year.
- In 2010, the American Cancer Society estimated that 11,790 people would die from skin cancer that year.
Skin cancer is more common in older people and can affect both men and women, regardless of the color of their skin. Powerful ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun are the root cause of cellular changes associated with aging skin and the development of cancer. However, you can take steps to protect yourself from getting skin cancer and to detect it early enough for effective treatment.
While basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) are the two most common types of skin cancer, melanoma is by far the most serious.Like BCC and SCC, melanoma can be cured if caught in the early stages of development. However, melanoma also has the potential to spread to other areas of the body with serious implications.
As with any skin condition, it's crucial to consult your physician, who, with the help of a pathologist, can accurately detect and interpret any abnormalities.
What you can do to prevent UV damage and skin cancer
To help prevent skin damage and provide for long-term skin health, take the following precautions*:
- When outdoors, apply a sunscreen with sun protection factor (SPF) 15 or higher
- Liberally apply a sunscreen with ingredients that block both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays
- Be sure to cover often-missed spots: lips, ears, around eyes, neck, scalp (if bald or hair is thinning), hands and feet
- Apply 30 minutes before going outside; reapply at least every two hours and more often if some of the product may have been removed while swimming, sweating or towel-drying
- Wear protective clothing
- When possible, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants
- Shade exposed areas like the scalp, ears, face and neck with a hat, preferably with a three- to four-inch brim
- Use UV-blocking sunglasses to protect your eyelids and the sensitive skin around your eyes
- Try to stay out of the sun during peak hours
- The sun's UV rays are particularly damaging between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Protect children, too
- Remember that skin is damaged with each unprotected exposure and that the effect is cumulative over a person's lifetime. Therefore, make sun safety a must for children.
* Adapted from the Skin Cancer Foundation Guidelines for Year-Round Sun Protection
Self-examination is key to maintaining skin health
Taking just a few minutes once a month to perform a self-examination can make a big difference in diagnosing skin cancer. Regular self-examinations help you to be sure that no new discolorations or moles have appeared and that existing ones have not changed or advanced.
Even if you do not find any new growths or changes, it is important to routinely schedule annual appointments with your physician, who can professionally diagnose any changes in your skin. Together with a laboratory pathologist, your doctor can perform interpretative tests that can help rule out skin cancer or offer the right information to treat potential irregularities.
Performing a self-exam
Once a month, you should perform a self-examination, following the five steps shown below. Self-examinations help you to recognize any changes in your skin, including discolorations or moles that could be cancerous. Be sure to consult your physician about any changes you notice. More information on how to perform a self examination can be found on the American Academy of Dermatology website.
Watching out for melanoma
Because melanoma can spread and even cause fatalities, it is particularly important to monitor growths and moles for changes and patterns that indicate possible melanoma.
A = Asymmetry - one half does not match the other half
B = Border irregularity - the edges are notched or ragged
C = Color - varied shades of tan, black and brown
D = Diameter - greater than 6 millimeters (6 mm) across
E = Evolving - significant change in size, shape and shade of color
**Adapted from the Skin Cancer Foundation.
Other warning signs of melanoma include:
Article from Quest Diagnostics
- A sore that does not heal
- Spread of pigment from the border of a spot to surrounding skin
- Redness or a new swelling beyond the border
- Change in sensation, such as itchiness, tenderness or pain
- Change in the surface of a mole: scaliness, oozing, bleeding or the appearance of a bump or nodule
- A mole that looks very different from your other moles