What are the main types of skin cancer? First, there’s non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC), which includes squamous cell cancer (SCC) and basal cell cancer (BCC). These cases make up the majority of skin cancer diagnoses with roughly 5 million cases affecting 3 million people in 2012. The incidence of both cancers has increased markedly since the 1970s and over 250% since the beginning of this millennium, with women having the greatest increase during this time. Fortunately, less than 4,000 women die each year from NMSC in the U.S. Still, the surgery for complete removal of these lesions can cause significant disfiguration (not only do the skin lesions have to be removed, but also a “margin” around the incision needs to be free of cancer cells to decrease the chance of recurrence).
The other main type of skin cancer is melanoma. While less common, about 1 in 10 affected individuals aren’t expected to survive the disease. This type of skin cancer has is much more aggressive and can spread throughout the body via the bloodstream. In fact, melanoma can even be spread from a pregnant woman across the placenta to her baby.
So, how do I avoid getting skin cancer? The number one risk factor for development of skin cancer is UV exposure. Notice that UV exposure doesn’t just include sun light, but this also (and especially) includes tanning beds. Daily use of sunscreen, seeking shade and long pants/sleeves can cut a person’s risk of being affected in half, which is a good thing, because having had even one blistering sunburn during a person’s early years can double the chance of melanoma. Not to mention, blockage of daily UV rays decreases some of the signs of skin aging, and who really wants to look older at this point in our lives anyway? Other risk factors include large number of moles (>50), irregular or large moles, history of excessive sunburn, tanning beds, blond or red hair, skin that burns easily and personal or family history of skin cancer.
When do I need to seek help? Some people with either a personal or family history of skin cancer require regular surveillance with a dermatologist to begin with, but others should be inclined to seek further evaluation with change is shape, size, or color of a current mole or skin lesion. Sore spots that don’t heal, constant itching or bleeding areas may also require further attention. These findings are typically spotted during self-performed exams.
Does this mean you have to stay out of the sun entirely? Not at all (at least for most people), especially when we want to take full advantage of our summers since it seems like winter is always coming here in Idaho Falls. Still, it does mean taking precautions to decrease sun and UV exposure as well as keeping a close eye on your moles and skin lesions. You can always make this a team sport if you want as well ;) Either way, be sure to contact your dermatologist if you notice any of these warning signs, and take the time to enjoy your summer safely!