Family Health, Your Health Lindsay Guinaugh | 6 years ago

Skin Cancer: What Is It and How Can I Avoid It?

We’re putting skin cancer in the spotlight to learn more about it, how to avoid it and debunk some skin cancer myths.

What is Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer is the abnormal growth of skin cells. The majority of skin cancers are caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, but they can also occur on areas of skin not exposed to sunlight. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, accounting for more than half of all cancers.

Skin Cancer Types

There are three major types of skin cancer: • Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma: These two types of skin cancer typically start in the basal cells or squamous cells, found on the outer layer of the skin, and are usually found on the face, chest, arms and hands. These cancers rarely spread and can be cured if treated early. • Melanoma: This cancer is rarer and more aggressive than other skin cancers and it causes most skin cancer deaths. Melanoma begins in the melanocytes: cells that produce melanin, or skin pigment, which helps protect deeper layers of the skin from the sun’s harmful effects. If found in its early stages, melanoma is nearly always curable.

How Common is Skin Cancer?

In the U.S., each year there are more new cases of skin cancer reported than breast, prostate, lung and colon cancers combined. More than 3.5 million cases of basal and squamous cell skin cancer and nearly 73,000 cases of melanoma are diagnosed each year. Treatment of non-melanoma skin cancers increased by 77 percent between 1992 and 2006.

Who Develops Skin Cancer?

“Anyone can get skin cancer,” says Phillip Whitworth, MD, at Carolinas HealthCare System’s Rutherford Internal Medicine Associates in Forest City. “Skin cancers develop from more than just unprotected and excessive exposure to ultraviolet rays.” In addition to ultraviolet exposure, Dr. Whitworth notes that people are more likely to develop skin cancer if they have: • Pale skin that sunburns easily • Natural blonde or red hair • A family history of skin cancer • Multiple or irregular moles • A weakened immune system • Previous skin cancers • Workplace or other exposure to certain chemicals like arsenic or radium • Severe sunburns People who live in areas with sunny and warm climates or in high-altitude areas, where sunlight is stronger, are also more prone to developing skin cancers.

What are the Symptoms?

“Changes in the skin are the primary indication of skin cancer,” says Dr. Whitworth. “Pay particular attention to changes in the color or diameter of existing moles, a new mole or growth, or a sore that doesn’t heal. These are often indications that melanoma may be present, so get your skin checked by a doctor.”

What Can I do to Prevent Skin Cancer?

“Protecting yourself from ultraviolet rays is the best way to avoid skin cancer,” says Dr. Whitworth. “Sunlight is the main source of UV rays, and that’s not just when you’re at the beach or the lake. Daily protection from sunlight is important, but that doesn’t mean you have to avoid the sun altogether.” Dr. Whitworth offers the following tips for sun safety: • Avoid outdoor activities during peak sun hours – between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. • Avoid tanning beds and sun lamps. • Protect your skin by wearing as much clothing as possible, including a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses. • Safeguard all uncovered areas of your skin – especially the face and hands – with a sunscreen that protects against ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, is water resistant and has a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or greater. • Don’t burn - just a single sunburn increases your risk of developing melanoma. If you see or feel your skin redden, cover exposed skin, seek shade or head indoors. • Check your skin for suspicious changes and talk with your doctor immediately about any concerns.

Skin Cancer Myths

Myth: Salon tanning is safer than tanning outdoors. Fact: Tanning beds use lights containing UV rays, which are just as harmful to your skin as being out in the sun. If you must have that tanned look, consider sunless tanning options like lotions or creams. Myth: If I use a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, I’m protected from the sun’s harmful rays. Fact: The higher the Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of a sunscreen the better, but SPF only applies to protection against UVB rays, not UVA rays. For the best protection, choose a broad spectrum sunscreen that contains zinc oxide or titanium oxide, to protect against UVA and UVB rays. Myth: A base tan protects you from getting skin cancer. Fact: “There is no such thing as a safe tan,” says Dr. Whitworth, “and a tan offers no protection against sunburn. A tan is really just your skin’s way of trying to protect itself from sun damage, which can lead to skin cancer.”   Carolinas HealthCare System is committed to making it easy to keep you and your family healthy. To learn more about how we make health easy for you, visit CarolinasHealthCare/CareMadeEasy.