February is National Cancer Prevention Month, and we’ve all got a lot of skin. Each one of those cells has the potential to become cancerous at some point in our lives. Therefore, it’s probably not surprising that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in America. It affects one in five Americans, and approximately more than three million cases of nonmelanoma skin cancer are diagnosed every year.
Below we’ve outlined the basics of skin cancer – what it is, the risk factors, and best practices for prevention. The best way to protect yourself is to schedule a skin cancer screening with a board-certified dermatologist. A medical professional can better help to detect any issues early-on, provide further guidance, and help answer your questions.
What Is Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. The incidence of skin cancer is higher than that of all other cancers combined. The two most common types of skin cancer—basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas—are highly curable but can be disfiguring and costly to treat. Melanoma, the third most common skin cancer, is more dangerous and causes the most deaths. The majority of cases of these three types of skin cancer are caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) light.
UV rays are an invisible kind of radiation that comes from the sun, tanning beds, and sunlamps. UV rays can penetrate and damage skin cells. The three types of UV rays are ultraviolet A (UVA), ultraviolet B (UVB), and ultraviolet C (UVC).
Most UV rays that reach the surface of the earth are UVA rays. UVA rays can reach deep into human skin and damage connective tissue and the skin’s DNA.
The ozone layer absorbs most UVB rays, so fewer of them reach the earth’s surface compared to UVA rays. UVB rays, which help produce vitamin D in the skin, don’t reach as far into the skin as UVA rays, but they can still cause sunburn and damage DNA.
UVC rays are hazardous, but they are absorbed entirely by the ozone layer and do not reach the earth’s surface.
In addition to causing sunburn, too much exposure to UV rays can change skin texture, cause the skin to age prematurely, and can lead to skin cancer. UV rays also have been linked to eye conditions such as cataracts.
What Are the Risk Factors?
Anyone can get skin cancer, but people with specific characteristics are at higher risk. For example:
1. If you have a lighter natural skin color.
2. If you have skin that burns, freckles, reddens easily, or becomes painful in the sun.
3. If you have blue or green eyes.
4. If you have blond or red hair.
5. If you have certain types or a large number of moles.
6. If you have a personal or family history of skin cancer.
What Are the Symptoms?
A change in your skin is the most common sign of skin cancer. The difference could be new growth, a sore that doesn’t heal, or a change in a mole. Not all skin cancers look the same. Does the mole or spot have an irregular shape with two parts that look very different? Is the border irregular or jagged; is the color uneven; has the mole or spot changed during the past few weeks or months?
Talk to your doctor or dermatologist if you notice changes in your skin. For example, new growth or a sore that doesn’t heal. Or, a change in old-growth, or any of the A-B-C-D-Es of melanoma.
How To Reduce Your Risk
When skin cancers are caught early, they are more often curable than not. It’s essential to be aware of your skin so you can protect it, and hopefully, prevent skin cancer from occurring in the first place. Here are six crucial ways you can help prevent skin cancer:
1. Get an annual checkup. Annual visits to your dermatologist are an excellent way to keep track of skin changes. Be sure to have these changes checked out when they turn up, as they are where skin cancer shows up. Often what may look like a nonhealing pimple or a normal mole to a novice may be skin cancer. The key is that skin cancer can look very harmless if you do not know for what to look.
2. Wear sunblock every day and reapply. Just because it’s cloudy doesn’t mean you should ditch the sunscreen – UV radiation can still filter through the cloud cover and cause damage to your skin. Reapply sunscreen every 20 minutes if exercising or in the water. Reapplication is particularly essential when the UV index is highest, usually between 11 am and 2 pm. Dermatologists recommend a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with both UVA and UVB protection and an SPF of at least 30.
3. Skip the sunbathing session. You’ve applied sunscreen, but are you still directly exposing your skin to the sun? Seeking that sun-kissed complexion can have dangerous consequences. Sunbathing is bad because ultraviolet rays are harmful to the DNA of the cells in the skin. When those cells get damaged, it leads to signs of aging and then skin cancer. At the beach, reapply a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 every two to three hours, and much more often if you’re in the water or sweating a lot. Seek shade as much as possible. Usually, people apply sunscreen, but don’t stay out of the sun. Sitting under an umbrella and wearing a hat is critical.
4. Avoid tanning beds. The radiation from indoor tanning beds is sometimes stronger than radiation from the sun. This type of radiation can cause skin cell mutations. Once cells are mutated, they continue to grow into cancerous tumors. Wrinkles are caused by damaging the epidermis – the outer layer of the skin – and the dermis – the middle layer of the skin. The skin becomes thin, wrinkled, and can look sullen from years of sun exposure.
5. Wear protective clothing. Although it’s tempting to lose the clothes, keep those shirts on. Better yet, seek protective clothing instead of traditional cotton fibers. Seek sun-protective clothing with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor – or UPF rating. A UPF 50 rating means that one in 50 of the sun’s rays reaches the skin. UPF is partly dependent on the weave of the fabric (a tighter weave gives more protection), the weight and density of the material, and the color. Choosing a garment with a UPF label often means that the apparel is fashionable as well as functional, with light, breathable fabric. You can usually find UPF labels on long-sleeved shirts, pants, and wide-brimmed hats.
Covering up with such clothing can help you avoid skin cancer but also painful sunburns. Sun protection is an integral part of skin cancer prevention because it prevents or reduces the damage that UV radiation can inflict on skin cells.
And don’t forget your sunglasses. Sunglasses may help reduce your chances of developing ocular melanoma, a dangerous form of eye cancer. This relatively rare form of cancer affects about 2,500 adults in the U.S. each year. While the connection between UV exposure and OM is not clear, some doctors believe there is an association. One thing we do know is that these cancers are more common among fair-skinned and blue-eyed individuals, the Ocular Melanoma Foundation reports. The American Cancer Society recommends wearing wrap-around sunglasses with 99 percent to 100 percent UVA and UVB absorption, as these provide the best protection for the eyes and the surrounding skin.
6. Check yourself. If you have a history of extensive sun exposure, lighter skin pigmentation, and a family or personal history of skin cancer, you should check your skin once per month. And be sure to check all of your skin – even those hard-to-see spots and areas that don’t generally see the sun, as skin cancers can still develop there. If you are in a lower risk category, then checking every three months or so is fine. If you notice any bleeding, burning, itching, or a nonhealing sore, you should see a dermatologist immediately.
More than half of cancers are considered preventable through behavioral changes, with evidence suggesting that skin cancer could also be avoidable. If we shift our focus from secondary prevention (catching a cancer early enough to treat it) to primary prevention (preventing the cancer from developing in the first place).
An excellent way to screen yourself at home is to follow the ABCDE method to examine your moles and identify anything that has changed:
Asymmetry – Most spots and moles are circular and consistent. When one half is unlike the other half, that’s a concern.
Border – Similar to asymmetry, look at the edge to see if it’s uneven, jagged, or poorly defined.
Color – Both cancerous and regular moles can be many colors. Color or tone that varies from one area to the other is cause for worry.
Diameter – Large moles and spots are rare. If one of yours is larger than the size of a pencil eraser, it could be cancerous.
Evolving – Exposure to UV rays can change any of the above. Monitor your moles and spots regularly to make sure they aren’t changing over several weeks or months.
Any change in the size, shape, border, or color is the significant signs for which to watch. If you find anything out of the ordinary, visit your dermatologist to have it looked at right away.
At increased risk for skin cancer? You may need regular skin cancer screening exams. These screening exams help find skin cancer early when the chances of successful treatment are highest.
Schedule A Skin Cancer Screening With A Board-Certified Dermatologist In Delray Beach
A board-certified dermatologist can do a skin cancer screening, a visual examination to look over your entire body. They look for anything suspicious — spots with abnormal shape, color, texture, or size. They also point out all the usual spots that you have, so you become more familiar with your skin.
For over ten years, Balshi Dermatology has provided the most exceptional state-of-the-art skincare and cosmetic services to patients of all ages in South Florida. Dr. Thomas Balshi is board certified in both internal medicine and dermatology. His specialties include the aesthetic enhancement of pigmented skin conditions, non-invasive skin rejuvenation, and cosmetic dermatology.
To schedule a skin cancer screening with a board-certified dermatologist in Delray Beach, contact Balshi Dermatology at (561) 272-6000 or send us a message on our Contact Page to set up your appointment.