May is National Skin Cancer Awareness Month and this time of year brings skin, our body’s largest organ, into focus as the weather warms up and people spend more time outside in the sun. Skin cancer is sometimes referred to as a “lifestyle disease” because its occurrence can be dramatically reduced through behavior modification, education, and early detection. Learning more about the disease and how it can be easily prevented and/or treated if found early, will hopefully inspire our readers to make some positive lifestyle changes and reduce their risk of skin cancer.
What is skin cancer exactly? Skin cancer is defined as the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells. It occurs when unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells, most often caused by ultraviolet radiation from sunshine or tanning beds, triggers mutations, or genetic defects, that lead the skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors. Cancer of the skin is often divided into two categories: non-melanoma and melanoma. The American Cancer Society estimates there are well over 1 million unreported cases of non-melanoma (basal cell or squamous cell) cancers annually in the United States. Melanoma, the more-serious form of skin cancer, is the most common form of cancer for young adults 25-29 years old and the second most common form of cancer for young people 15-29 years old. Furthermore, women aged 39 and under have a higher probability of developing melanoma than any other cancer except breast cancer, and up until age 40, significantly more women than men develop melanoma.
Current statistics show that skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States, as well as some other countries, and unfortunately the incident rate continues to rise. Although the frequency of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer diagnoses indicate that this disease remains a significant health concern, it’s important to note that, research and public awareness campaigns are promoting prevention and early detection of skin cancer. Staying informed with the latest news on prevention and screening are important steps in reducing your risk of developing skin cancer. Here are a few tips from the Skin Cancer Foundation for reducing your skin cancer risk:
- Seek the shade, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM.
- Do not burn.
- Avoid tanning and UV tanning booths.
- Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
- 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 (2 tablespoons) 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 should be used on babies over the age of six months.
- Examine your skin head-to-toe every month.
- See your physician every year for a professional skin exam.