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Reduce Your Risk of Skin Cancer

Posted 07-05-2013 at 04:20 PM by ChristaIB
Updated 10-17-2013 at 11:53 AM by ChristaIB

Are you spending more time out in the sun this summer? If so, remember to wear sunscreen (sun block) and protect yourself from those UV rays (think big hats, big sun umbrellas and bathing suit cover-ups that also provide some sun protection.)

This July blog on UV safety is our nod to UV Safety Month. Read on to get tips for how you can protect yourself against developing skin cancer. And, if you do have any moles or skin spots that look questionable, get them checked out by a dermatologist. Early detection and prompt treatment of skin cancer deliver the best results and long-term prognosis.

Skin Cancer Facts to Consider

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States.

• Each year, more than two million people are diagnosed with one or more types of skin cancer.
• Over the past three decades, more people have had skin cancer than all other cancers combined.
• Melanoma accounts for less than five percent of skin cancer cases, but the vast majority of skin cancer deaths.
• Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for young adults 25-29 years old and the second most common form of cancer for young people 15-29 years old.
• A person’s risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had more than five sunburns at any age.

Risk Factors for Skin Cancer

Several factors that can increase your risk of developing skin cancer include:

• Family history of skin cancer, especially melanoma
• Working an outside job
• Physical characteristics such as blond or red hair, blue or green eyes, pale skin, freckled skin
• Skin that easily burns
• A multitude of moles

Tips for Reducing Your Risk

Learn to recognize the early symptoms of skin cancer and take steps to reduce your risks. Follow these five tips for reducing your risk of skin cancer:
Wear sunscreen every day, regardless of the season. Use SPF 15 or higher for the best protection. (Many moisturizers and make-ups now include a sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher, making it easier to make this a routine.)
Stay out of the sun. Your face, neck and arms are the most exposed areas that need to be protected from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.
Don’t use tanning beds or salons. UV exposure from these increases the risk of developing skin cancer by 75 percent.
Examine your skin regularly. Look for moles with dark, unusual or changing colors and those with irregular shapes. Checking your skin for new lesions or a change in existing moles or lesions is imperative to detecting skin cancer early.
Check your medicines to see if they increase your sun sensitivity, as many medications do. Increased sensitivity increases the risk of sunburn, which increases your overall risk for developing skin cancer. (Antibiotics, antidepressants and cholesterol medications are common culprits.)


Educate Yourself: Know the Skin Cancer Types


If your doctor does find a mole or skin spot that is cancerous, it is important to know which type of cancer it is. This information will determine your treatment options and your prognosis.

Basal and squamous cell skin cancers are very common, most often occurring on areas where you have been exposed to the sun (your head, neck and arms).

Basal skin cancer
accounts for roughly 8 out of 10 skin cancer cases. According to the American Cancer Society, up to 50 percent of the people who are diagnosed with one basal cell cancer will develop a new skin cancer within 5 years. There is good news—basal skin cancer is slow-growing, very treatable, and not very likely to spread to lymph nodes or other parts of the body.

Squamous skin cancers account for 2 out of 10 skin cancer cases. In addition to appearing on sun-exposed body areas of the body (common locations are the face, ears, neck, lips, and backs of hands), they can sometimes develop in scars or chronic skin sores in other parts of the body, including the genital area. Squamous cancers are more likely to spread to lymph nodes and/or other parts of the body, although this is not common.

Melanoma is a much rarer form of skin cancer, but is the most serious and aggressive type. Melanomas are skin cancers that develop from melanocytes, the pigment-making cells of the skin. The true melanomas can be hard to distinguish from “normal” moles (nevi), since melanocytes can also form benign (non-cancerous) moles.

In fact, a Spitz nevus is a kind of skin tumor that sometimes looks like melanoma, but is not. These generally are benign tumors that don't spread. Interestingly, even doctors have trouble telling Spitz nevi from true melanomas.
For this reason, these moles are often removed to be safe. Since melanoma skin cancer can spread to other areas of the body, it is important to get any suspicious moles checked out by a doctor (and sooner is better than later).

You can learn more about melanoma and other types of cancer at our sister site, eHealthForum.

There are several other types of skin cancer that are much less common. More information on all types of skin cancer can be found on the American Cancer Society website.


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