Skin Cancer: Tips for preventing it and lowering your risk

It’s definitely summer.  We’re already seeing high temperatures, and people who work and play outside need to take precautions to stay safe in the sun and to protect themselves against skin cancer. Dr. Thomas Boyd of North Star Lodge offers tips for preventing skin cancers, including melanoma.

How many people get skin cancer?

Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers. About 3.5 million cases of basal and squamous cell skin cancer are diagnosed in this country each year. The American Cancer Society estimates that melanoma, a more dangerous type of skin cancer, will account for more than 73,000 cases of skin cancer in 2015.

What is melanoma?

  • Melanoma is a cancer that begins in the melanocytes – the cells that produce the skin coloring or pigment known as melanin. Melanin helps protect the deeper layers of the skin from the harmful effects of the sun.
  • Melanoma is almost always curable when it is found in its very early stages.  The five-year survival rate for people whose melanoma is detected and treated before it spreads to the lymph nodes is 98 percent.

What are the risk factors for skin cancer?

The risk for getting skin cancer is real.  The American Academy of Dermatology estimates one in five Americans will develop skin cancer.  Risk factors include:

  • Unprotected and/or excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or tanning beds
  • Pale complexion (difficulty tanning, easily sunburned, natural red or blond hair color)
  • Occupational exposures to coal tar, pitch, creosote, arsenic compounds, or radium
  • You or other members of your family have had skin cancers
  • Multiple or unusual moles
  • Severe sunburns in the past

What are the signs and symptoms of skin cancer?

  • Any change on your skin, especially in the size or color of a mole, growth, or spot, or a new growth (even if it has no color)
  • Scaliness, oozing, bleeding, or change in the appearance of a bump or nodule
  • The spread of pigmentation (color) beyond its border, such as dark coloring that spreads past the edge of a mole or mark
  • A change in sensation, such as itchiness, tenderness, or pain

Can skin cancer be prevented?

You can still exercise and enjoy the outdoors while using sun safety at the same time.

  • Avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Look for shade, especially in the middle of the day when the sun’s rays are strongest. Practice the shadow rule and teach it to children. If your shadow is shorter than you, the sun’s rays are at their strongest.
  • Wear protective clothing when you are out in the sun. Choose comfortable clothes made of tightly woven fabrics that you cannot see through when held up to a light.
  • Use sunscreen and lip balm with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher. Apply a generous amount of sunscreen and reapply every 2 hours and after swimming, toweling dry, or sweating. Use sunscreen even on hazy or overcast days.
  • Cover your head with a wide-brimmed hat, shading your face, ears, and neck.
  • Wear sunglasses with 99% to 100% UV absorption to provide optimal protection for the eyes and the surrounding skin.
  • Avoid other sources of UV light. Tanning beds and sun lamps are dangerous. They also damage your skin in other ways.
  • Check your skin every month for odd marks, moles, or sores that will not heal. Pay extra attention to areas that get a lot of sun, such as your hands, arms, and back. Ask your doctor to check your skin during regular physical exams or at least once a year.

How is skin cancer treated?

Treatment depends on the size, depth and location of the cancer.

  • Surgery – cancerous mole removed
  • Radiation, if surgery isn’t an option
  • Biological therapy to stimulate the immune system to kill cancer cells

 

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