Now is The Perfect Time to Discuss Skin Cancer
Summer is always a good time to remind everyone that sun exposure can lead to skin cancer. Attention given to skin cancer is sometimes “quieter” than that given to other types of cancer. But, 5 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the US every year. This number is more than all other types of cancers combined.
If you know someone with skin cancer, make sure you show your support. Many people think skin cancer is not a big deal, perhaps because it is so common. But skin cancer can be deadly, especially when it is not discovered in its early stages. If you have a friend or even a family member dealing with skin cancer, don’t assume “it’s just skin cancer.” Treating skin cancer can require surgeries, chemotherapy treatments, radiation and result in a slew of physical and emotional side effects for the patient and their family.
Why Should You Care About Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer deserves attention for many reasons, one of which is because it is so common. It is unimaginable that you don’t know someone who has been affected by this type of cancer, given some facts:
- 1 in every five people in the US will develop skin cancer by the time they are 70
- At least two people die an hour from skin cancer
- Having five or more sunburns doubles your risk of developing melanoma
- One sunburn as a child that produces blisters doubles your risk of developing melanoma
Another critical reason for paying attention to skin cancer is that, in many cases, it is preventable. Most skin cancer is from exposure to dangerous UV rays of the sun.
There are things that can drastically reduce your risk of developing skin cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, to prevent skin cancer, you should:
- Avoid exposure to the sun, particularly between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm during the summer when the sun’s UV rays are the strongest.
- Avoid tanning beds
- Cover your skin if you are in the sun – wear clothing and a hat
- Protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses
- Wear sunscreen that has broad-spectrum protection, which protects against UVA and UVB rays
- Make sure you use sunscreen that is at least SPF 30
- Reapply sunscreen at least every two hours
- Protect your lips too with lip balm with SPF 30
- If you have children, be sure to put sunscreen on them also.
- Keep babies under six months out of direct sunlight.
- Wear sunscreen all year long- not just in the summertime
Taking these precautions can mean the difference between life and death, especially for those who have a predisposition or condition that can make their risk of developing skin cancer higher than others. The American Cancer Society suggests that if you take extra care if you:
- Are fair-skinned
- Have freckles
- Have naturally red or blond hair
- Have people in your family who had or have skin cancer, especially melanoma
- Have already had skin cancer
- Burn before tanning
- Have had multiple sunburns
- Take medications that make you sun-sensitive
- You work outdoors or spend significant leisure time outside
- Are immunosuppressed
- Have a lot of moles, irregularly shaped moles, or large moles
The Early Detection of Skin Cancer Can Save Lives
While there are many things you can do to prevent skin cancer or lower your risk of skin cancer, nothing is guaranteed. Another important reason to pay close attention to skin cancer is that if you can detect it in its early stage, skin cancer can be very treatable. For example, if you treat melanoma before it has spread, the five-year survival rate can be as high as 99%. Also, many growths are “pre-cancerous,” and can be treated or removed before they ever become cancerous.
The American Cancer Society recommends doing self-exams of your skin on a regular basis to familiarize yourself with marks, freckles, and moles, so you recognize changes or new growths before it is too late. While you might not know what skin cancer looks like, there are some general considerations to look for that might indicate a visit to the doctor is wise. If you notice these things, you might want to ask a health care professional to take a look.
- A mole with an odd shape
- A mole with uneven edges
- A mole that has various colors
- A mole or spot that is brand new or has changed in color or shape
- A new or changing growth, bump, lump, or spot on the skin
- Redness or soreness or itchiness in a spot on the skin
- A sore that repeatedly bleeds or does not heal
- A rough, red, crusty spot
- New scaling, oozing, bleeding on the surface of a mole
The earlier you start to do self-exams, the better you can spot something that might be out of the ordinary. Of course, seeing a doctor for regular exams is also a good way to increase the chances of early skin cancer detection.
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