Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S. with more than five million cases diagnosed each year. It also is the most preventable cancer with the majority of cases associated with exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun. As we get into the warmer months of the year, it is a good time to remind you about the dangers of unprotected sun exposure and encourage you to check for warning signs on your skin.
The Types of Skin Cancers
There are two types of skin cancers, melanoma, and nonmelanoma. Let’s break each down:
- Melanoma is often referred to as “the bad skin cancer” because it is the more dangerous of the two. While it only accounts for 1 percent of skin cancers, that rate is rising year over year, and it is the leading cause of death related to the disease.
- Nonmelanoma is serious but not as life-threatening as melanoma and is easier to treat. Within this type of skin cancer, there are two common types: basal cell carcinoma, which accounts for about 80 percent of all nonmelanomas, and squamous cell carcinoma, which accounts for the other 20 percent.
Causes and Symptoms of Skin Cancer
While direct exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun is a main culprit, other causes exist as well. In fact, family history can play a role, with about 10 percent of those diagnosed having some genetic predisposition. Fair skin or abnormal moles are other risk factors associated with the disease.
To detect any signs of melanoma, the ABDCE guidelines have been created to make it easier to remember what to look for related to a mole or spot on your skin:
- Asymmetry – if the diameter is not an even shape or if one half of a mole doesn’t match the other
- Border – if the edges are not smooth and are irregular
- Color – if the color varies and includes brown, black, pink, red, white or blue
- Diameter – if it is larger than six millimeters across, or about the size of a pencil eraser
- Evolving – if it changes in shape, size or color
Health care providers recommend you examine your skin monthly to check for moles or spots, and if you find any with one or more of the above characteristics, please see your healthcare provider right away.
You can take many steps to protect yourself and your skin from damaging UV rays from the sun. Remember, the sun is strongest between the hours of 10:00 am and 2:00 pm, so if outside during those times, seek shade when appropriate. If you can, wear a well-brimmed hat and sunglasses when spending time outdoors, and of course, apply a broad-spectrum, waterproof sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher (reapply it every two hours or after swimming or sweating).
Remember, skin cancer is the most common cancer but also the most preventable. If you have any questions, please reach out to your healthcare provider.
Need additional health guidance? Contact Hudson Physicians.