For the last three decades, skin cancer has affected more people than all other cancers combined, according to the American Skin Cancer Foundation. Because skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, it is important to shed light on the essential role of skin cancer prevention and early detection in everyday life – especially now that we’ve officially entered into a warm and relaxing summer season and sun exposure is at its peak.
Types of Skin Cancer
Although there are many other types, there are three main types of skin cancer. From the least to the most dangerous, the American Cancer Society reports the most common forms of skin cancer include basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer. In fact, nearly 8 out of 10 skin cancers are this type of cancer. These cancers typically develop on sun-exposed areas, particularly the head and neck.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
About 2 out of 10 skin cancers are squamous cell carcinoma. The main cause for squamous cell carcinoma is cumulative UV exposure over the course of a lifetime.
Melanoma accounts for less than 2 percent of skin cancer cases, but causes the vast majority of skin cancer deaths.
Causes of Skin Cancer
Nearly 90% of damage to the skin cells’ DNA results from ultraviolet (UV) radiation found in sunlight and tanning beds. However, skin cancer can develop in those who have had little lifetime exposure to sunlight. Other potential causes of skin cancer include:
- Family History of Skin Cancer – Those with parents or siblings with skin cancer may have increased risk for developing the disease.
- Weakened Immune System – People with weakened immune systems (particularly those with HIV/AIDS and those taking immunosuppressant drugs after organ transplant) have a higher risk for skin cancer.
- Exposure to Radiation – Having radiation treatment for skin conditions, such as acne or eczema, increases risk for skin cancer.
- Exposure to Chemicals – Those exposed to certain substances, especially coal and arsenic compounds, may have a higher risk for skin cancer.
ABCDEs of Melanoma
Spotting the signs of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, in its earliest stages is key to survival. Once a month, examine your skin for any suspicious mole growth or changes. As you examine, use the ABCDEs of melanoma, and schedule an appointment with your doctor immediately if you answer ‘yes’ to any of these questions:
A - Asymmetry
If you draw a line through your mole, do the two halves look different?
B - Border
Are the edges uneven, scalloped or notched?
C - Color
Does it appear to contain a variety of colors or shades of brown, tan or black?
D - Diameter
Is the diameter larger than the size of an eraser (1/4 inch)?
E - Evolving
Is it changing in size, shape, color, elevation? Are symptoms changing, such as bleeding, itching or crusting?
Skin Cancer Prevention
Most skin cancers are preventable by practicing proper sun safety. Follow these sun safety guidelines, not just in the summer, but all-year-round for optimal protection from harmful UV exposure:
- Slather on the sunscreen. Choose a sunscreen with broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) and sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. Reapply every two hours. Reapply more frequently if you are swimming or sweating.
- Avoid tanning and UV tanning booths. It’s never safe to tan, regardless of whether it’s done indoors or outdoors.
- Cover up with protective gear. Wear light, loose clothing, including a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses with 100 percent UV protection.
- Stay out of mid-day sun. Stay out of the sun during peak sun hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) by scheduling outdoor activities for mornings and evenings.
- Stay in the shade when possible. If you must be outside during mid-day, head under a pavilion, a tree or carry a sun umbrella to block UV rays.
Knowing your risk factors for skin cancer, including how to prevent and detect the disease, are important aspects of your overall health routine. From skin cancer prevention to diagnosis and treatment, UnityPoint Clinic – Dermatology and Trinity Cancer Center have the knowledge and expertise to help you enjoy the summer sun, without risking your health.