What is Skin cancer?
Affecting more than two million people in the United States each year, skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells. It occurs when unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells triggers mutations that lead the skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors. There are five main types of skin cancer: Actinic Keratosis, Dysplastic Nevi, Basal Cell Carcinoma, Melanoma, and Squamous Cell Carcinoma. Skin cancer is what is called a “lifestyle disease” which means, unlike other cancers, it is preventable. Though it is the most common, it is also the easiest to cure.
The rates of skin cancer, especially melanoma, have been rising uncontrollably. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation and the Mayo Clinic, over the last forty years, rates of skin cancer grew 800 percent among young women and 400 percent among young men. Lifetime risk of melanoma is 1.5 times greater in males than in females, but among young people this pattern is opposite. Researchers suspect the use of tanning beds has a hand in the rising cancer rate in young women. Even just going to a tanning salon four times a year can increase your rate of developing melanoma by 11 percent. “A recent study shows that people who use indoor tanning beds frequently are 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma, and we know young women are more likely to use them than young men,” says Dr. Brewer, a Mayo Clinic dermatologist. Due to the alarming rate of cases and well known risk factors, people are very aware of this disease, making skin cancer the easiest cancer to diagnose, treat, and cure.
Since one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime, it is important to take responsible action against the disease. Here are nine ways to help reduce your risk of skin cancer, provided by the Skin Cancer Foundation.
- Seek shade, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun is the strongest.
- Don’t burn. A person’s risk of melanoma doubles if he or she has had five or more sunburns at any point in life.
- Avoid tanning booths. UV radiation from tanning machines is known to cause cancer in humans, and the more times a person has spent tanning indoors, the higher the risk.
- Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses. Clothing can be your most effective form of sun protection, so make the most of it with densely woven and bright-or dark-colored fabrics, which offer the best protection.
- Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a water resistant, broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
- Apply 1 ounce of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
- Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens may be used on babies over the age of six months, but they should also be protected by shade and clothing. Children are very sensitive to ultraviolet radiation - just one severe sunburn in childhood doubles the chances of developing melanoma later in life.
- Examine your skin head-to-toe every month. While self-exams shouldn’t replace the important annual skin exam performed by a physician, they offer the best chance in detecting the early warning signs of skin cancer. If you notice any change in an existing mole or discover a new one that looks suspicious, see a physician immediately.
- See your physician every year for a professional skin exam.