May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month. Did you know that skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S.? According to skincancer.org, 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime and one person dies from skin cancer every hour. Rates are also increasing for people under 40. And, this may be surprising: Skin cancer is the second most common type of cancer for women between ages 15 and 29.
Your risk for developing skin cancer goes up every time you get a sunburn. Researchers in the UK estimate that 9 out of 10 cases can be prevented by avoiding harmful UV rays. That’s why Riverside Medical Clinic wants you to practice safe sun. It’s the best way to protect yourself and the ones you love.
There are three ways to become sun safe:
- Seek shade, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun’s rays are the strongest.
- Wear protective clothing, including sunglasses and a hat.
- Generously apply sunscreen. Regular, daily use of sunscreen can reduce your risk by 50%. You just want to make sure it has broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) protection with an SPF 30 or greater. Reapply every two hours and immediately after swimming. As an added bonus, sunscreen is the best way to prevent wrinkles and premature signs of aging, too.
What is Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer is defined as an abnormal growth of skin cells. It happens when damage triggers mutations that cause the skin cells to rapidly multiply and form tumors. Melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, is what we call an atypical mole.
Am I At Risk?
Everyone is at risk for skin cancer but it goes up depending on sun exposure, genetics and the number of moles on your skin. The fairer you are (or the more easily you sunburn), the easier it is for you to develop skin cancer. Those with darker skin are prone to skin cancer in other places, such as the palm of the hand, the soles of the feet, inside the mouth and under fingernails. Also, researchers are discovering that smokers are at a higher risk. According to a study in the Cancer Research journal, melanoma patients with a history of smoking are 40% more likely to lose their battle with skin cancer. Researchers have a couple of theories as to why. They believe that smoking may decrease your immune system’s ability to fight. Also, nicotine causes blood vessels to constrict. This may reduce blood flow and healing.
Do Tattoos Cause Skin Cancer?
The medical community has been studying a possible link between tattoos and skin cancer for quite a while. So far, there is no direct evidence of tattoo ink causing cancer. However, dermatologists are concerned about potential toxins in black ink because they may contain benzo (a) pyrene, a known carcinogen. It is also not advised to get a tattoo over a pre-existing mole, scar or birthmark because you won’t be able to notice any changes in your skin – and anything that delays skin cancer detection is dangerous.
Remember your ABCDE’s
The most common signs of skin cancer are changes on your skin. Most moles, brown spots and skin growths are usually harmless, but just think of your ABCDEs so you can recognize these signs:
A = asymmetrical. Typical moles have an even shape. But if you draw a line through a suspect mole, the two sides will not match.
B = border. Most moles have smooth, even borders. However, the border of an early melanoma may be jagged or uneven-looking.
C = color. Most moles are one color (usually brownish). If you spot a mole with a variety of colors, that’s a warning signal. A melanoma could be a combination of red, black and white.
D = diameter. Benign (non-cancerous) moles are usually smaller in diameter. Melanomas are larger than the eraser on a pencil.
E = evolving. Most moles look the same, time after time. However, if a mole changes or evolves in size, shape or color, see a doctor. Also, if it starts bleeding, crusting over or itching, see your doctor.
Not all skin cancers look alike. If you have a wound that doesn’t heal, a mole that is growing or if something just doesn’t seem right, see one of our doctors right away. Early detection is the key to beating skin cancer. If it is discovered and treated in the early stages, it’s almost 100% curable. Schedule an appointment right away!