Six years ago I was diagnosed with a basal cell carcinoma on my face just below my left eye. I knew that I was high risk for developing skin cancer due to my fair skin and history of sunburns so I wasn’t completely surprised by the news, but I was scared. The doctor didn’t know how deep or wide the cancer was so I had to have Mohs surgery to remove the carcinoma and preserve as much healthy tissue as possible. The surgery went well, but when the nurse handed me a mirror afterward to look at my face I about passed out. I had 15 stitches that went from the bottom corner of my inner eye to the corner of my outer eye. I looked like Frankenstein. I then realized how lucky I was and that I could have been severely disfigured from the surgery if the cancer had been more extensive. Since my scare with skin cancer, I have taken measures to protect my skin from the sun and have tried to also help raise awareness of just how common skin cancer is and how it can be prevented.
Skin cancer is by far the most common of all cancers and most can be prevented! Skin cancer can affect anyone, regardless of skin color, gender, or age. Here are some important things you should know about skin cancer and how to prevent it.
What Are The Most Common Types of Skin Cancer?
There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.
Basal Cell Skin Carcinoma
Basal cell carcinomas are the most common form of skin cancer but are usually very treatable. They are most often found on the areas of the body that are exposed to the sun, such as the head, neck, and arms, but they can occur elsewhere. They usually appear as a small, shiny bump or nodule on the skin. They do not often spread to other areas on the body, but they can still cause problems and disfigurement if not taken care of properly.
Squamous Cell Skin Carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinomas are the second most common cancer of the skin. They often appear as a bump, or as a red scaly patch on the ear, the face, the lips, and the mouth. These carcinomas can metastasize and spread to other areas of the body if not treated promptly.
Melanoma Skin Carcinoma
Melanoma is less common but it is more likely to grow and spread. It is the most deadly of all the skin cancers but is curable when detected early. Melanoma can appear suddenly without warning or it can begin in or near a mole or dark spot on the skin. Watch for moles that are asymmetrical, have poorly-defined borders, are different shades of color, large in diameter, or seem to be changing and evolving.
What Can I Do to Help Prevent Skin Cancer?
There are several things you can do to prevent skin cancer. First of all, limit your time in the sun, especially during peak hours between 9 a.m and 3 p.m. Wear clothing with UV protection. Use sunscreen with a SPF of at least 15 containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide to protect against UVB and UVA. Benzophenones and octocrylene both also have UVA and UVB absorbing properties. Do not use tanning beds, which are a major cause of excess ultraviolet light exposure and a significant risk factor for skin cancer. And lastly, see your doctor once a year for a skin cancer screening. Early detection could save your life!
What Are Some Skin Cancer Statistics I Should Know?
Skincancer.org has recently reported the following:
- More people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year in the U.S. than all other cancers combined.
- One in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70.
- One person dies of melanoma every hour.
- Actinic keratosis is the most common precancer; it affects more than 58 million Americans.
- About 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.
- The vast majority of melanomas are caused by the sun. In fact, one UK study found that about 86 percent of melanomas can be attributed to exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.
- On average, a person’s risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had more than five sunburns.
- Regular daily use of an SPF 15 or higher sunscreen reduces the risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma by 40% and melanoma by 50 percent.
- More than 419,000 cases of skin cancer in the U.S. each year are linked to indoor tanning, including about 245,000 basal cell carcinomas, 168,000 squamous cell carcinomas and 6,200 melanomas.
- An estimated 90 percent of skin aging is caused by the sun. People who use sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher daily show 24 percent less skin aging than those who do not use sunscreen daily.
Your Health Rx: Have fun in the sun but limit your time outdoors and always apply sunscreen! Also, don’t forget to wear sunglasses with 100% UVB and UVA protection and get your skin cancer screenings done annually.