How will you take care of your skin this summer?
That question might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you're making summer plans, but it's an important consideration.
Why? Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. And the American Academy of Dermatology estimates that “one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.”
The good news? Skin cancer is also the most preventable type of cancer.
Wondering what exactly causes skin cancer, what warning signs to look for, or how to decrease your risks? You’ve come to the right place.
Here are the facts on skin cancer causes, symptoms, and prevention techniques. Plus, when it’s time to see the doctor.
What Causes Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer occurs when your skin cells begin to mutate and grow abnormally.
Skin cancer is usually caused by overexposure to UV rays, either outside or at tanning beds.
Skin cancer can occasionally develop on skin that is not normally exposed to UV light. Causes may include overexposure to x-rays, “exposure to toxic substances or having a condition that weakens your immune system,” according to the Mayo Clinic.
Symptoms of Skin Cancer
How do you know if you have skin cancer?
Different types of skin cancer can show up in different ways.
- Basal cell carcinoma may show up as a pearly or waxy bump on the skin, a scaly patch, or an open sore that doesn’t heal.
- Squamous cell carcinoma can show up as a red nodule, a scaly patch, or a sore.
- Melanoma occurs in the cells that give the skin its pigment. It can show up as a change in a mole, or the development of new areas of pigmented skin. Melanoma is a more rare, but more serious type of skin cancer.
Always let your doctor know if you notice any abnormalities on your skin.
How is Skin Cancer Diagnosed
Skin cancer is diagnosed by taking a biopsy of the skin.
To catch skin cancer early, you should schedule regular skin exams. These can often be incorporated into your regular health check-up.
Remember, you know your body best, so let your doctor know if there’s a specific spot that’s been bothering you, like a mole or sunspot.
Your doctor may also recommend monthly self-exams, which can help you catch abnormalities early.
Skin Cancer Prevention
There are many things you can do to decrease your chances of getting skin cancer. The biggest thing you can do? Limit your exposure to UV rays. Here’s how.
- Limit your exposure to direct sunlight. The sun’s rays are strongest between 10 am and 4 pm. Limit your time in the sun during these hours. Seek shade when possible.
- Wear protective clothing. When possible, aim for long sleeves, sunglasses, and hats.
- Wear sunscreen. Look for an SPF of at least 30 that is water-resistant and broad-spectrum. And remember, it takes time for your skin to absorb sunscreen, so it’s best to apply 15-30 minutes before you go out in the sun.
- Avoid tanning beds. Tanning beds damage your skin more than spending time outside. This is because tanning beds use UVA rays, which penetrate deeper into the skin, while sunlight has a mixture of UVA and UVB rays, which don’t penetrate your skin as deeply. It’s also easier to overdo a tanning bed tan, because UVA rays don’t cause the reddened skin that’s often a warning sign you’ve gotten too much sun. In fact, tanning can be so dangerous that Minnesota has outlawed the use of tanning beds by minors.
- Do not burn. We know, this one probably goes without saying. But you may be wondering, why is sunburn so bad for your skin? According to Cancer Research UK, “Sunburn is a clear sign that the DNA in your skin cells has been damaged by too much UV radiation. Getting sunburn, just once every 2 years, can triple your risk of melanoma skin cancer.”
Get Ready for Summer - Schedule a Skin Exam Today!
Even if you’re careful about your UV light exposure, there’s still a chance you may develop skin cancer. To catch it early, it’s important to schedule annual skin exams with a professional, such as your Family Medicine physician.
Remember, skin cancer is highly preventable and treatable.
Get the care you need - request an appointment today!