Skin cancer is preventable to a large extent, and if caught early, it is usually curable. Since most skin cancers are related to sun exposure, take precautions when spending time outdoors no matter what time of year. Too much sunlight increases the risk of skin cancer and leads to premature skin aging.
If you plan to be in the sun for more than 20 minutes, apply sunscreen. Make sure to check your skin and see a dermatologist regularly.
Stay safe in the sun
Most sun exposure occurs before the age of 18, and skin cancer may take 20 years or more to develop. Whether your days of sunbathing have passed or you are still spending time in pursuit of the perfect tan, you should worry about skin cancer.
Remember that the sun's ultraviolet (UV) can be reflected by water, sand, concrete, and snow, and can reach below the water surface. Certain types of ultraviolet rays can penetrate fog and clouds, so even on cloudy days you can get sunburned.
- Avoid direct sunlight as much as possible during peak sunshine hours (usually 10 am to 3 pm), or look for a cool place during this time.
- Apply broad-spectrum sunscreen-with an SPF of at least 30-and include both UVA and UVB protection. Look for ingredients such as Parsol 1789 (also called avobenzone) or titanium dioxide on the label.
- Reapply sunscreen frequently, at least every two hours when outdoors, especially when you are sweating or swimming. The best way is to choose waterproof products that are more likely to stay on the skin.
- Use a lip balm with SPF 15 or higher.
- Wear a hat and other protective clothing in the sun. Tightly woven fibers and dark clothing usually provide more protection. Also, look for products approved by the American Academy of Dermatology.
- Wear sunglasses with UV protection.
If you are taking antibiotics or other drugs, please consult your doctor or nurse if this will increase your skin's sensitivity to sunlight.
Determine your skin cancer risk
The above guidelines apply to everyone, but some people have a higher risk of skin cancer, so you should be especially careful when exposed to the sun.
If any of the following descriptions apply to you, please see a dermatologist for a full-body examination every year. The risk of skin cancer is cumulative. The more risk factors you have-the more sun damage you have in your life-the higher your risk.
Risk factors for skin cancer include:
- Personal history of skin cancer or precancerous skin lesions
- Prone to freckles or sunburn
- A lot of sun exposure in a lifetime
- Multiple sunburns during childhood or adolescence
- Family history of skin cancer (such as melanoma) or diseases that are more likely to develop into skin cancer, such as dysplastic mole syndrome or a large number of atypical moles
- Chronic, non-healing wounds or burns
- Radiation therapy
- Exposure to toxic substances such as arsenic
- Exposure to certain subtypes of human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV 6,11,16 and 18 with squamous cell carcinoma hair development related, especially in patients with compromised immune systems.
- Organ transplant patients taking immunosuppressive drugs have an increased risk of skin cancer
Regular skin self-examination
An important part of skin cancer prevention and detection is learning to recognize skin changes that may cause cancer and alert your doctor to any suspicious moles.
- Perform thorough skin checks regularly, preferably once a month. Do this in a bright room in front of the full-length mirror.
- Check your entire body carefully and watch out for any new or suspicious moles.
- Some people find it helpful to record their self-examination results by creating a "body map" or "mole map".
- Use a hand mirror to view difficult points, such as the top of the scalp or the back of the legs.
- Ask your spouse or close friends or family members to check hard-to-see areas.
Understanding the ABC of melanoma
Knowing the signs of "ABC" or melanoma (the deadliest type of skin cancer) can help you find it early when it is most curable.
- A (Asymmetric) Melanoma usually has asymmetric borders, while benign moles are usually symmetrical.
- B (Irregular borders) The borders of melanomas are usually jagged or chipped, while benign moles usually do not.
- C (color) Melanoma usually contains multiple shades of brown or black within a mole, while benign moles usually have only one shade.
- D (diameter) Early melanomas are usually 6 mm or larger, while benign moles are usually smaller than 6 mm.
- E (Evolution) The symmetry, border, color, or diameter of the mole changes over time.
The ABCDE rule is a good guide for the common symptoms of melanoma. If you find spots that match the description below, please notify your primary care doctor or dermatologist. Some melanomas do not meet the ABCDE rules, so please be aware of skin changes.
Know how to recognize non-melanoma skin cancer
Basal cell carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma is the most commonly diagnosed skin cancer. In recent years, the number of young women diagnosed with this skin cancer has increased dramatically, and this increase has been attributed to the popularity of sunbathing and tanning salons.
Basal cell carcinoma is rarely fatal and usually does not spread, but it is still important to detect it early so that surgical resection is as noninvasive as possible.
Basal cell carcinoma occurs in areas exposed to sunlight and usually looks like a pink mass with the following characteristics:
- Pearly or waxy appearance
- Sink center
- Irregular blood vessels on the surface
- Bleed easily after injury
Squamous cell carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common type of skin cancer after basal cell carcinoma. It is rarely fatal, but if it is not detected early, it may spread or recur.
Squamous cell carcinoma usually appears on the head, hands, ears, back of the neck and forearms-areas that are exposed to more sunlight. If any of the following description applies to you, please check it.
- Raised dark red skin lesions
- Thick shell scales
- Ulcer appearance