Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the world. Research estimates that 3 million Americans are affected by non-melanoma skin cancer each year and the incidence of all types are on the rise. The incidence of basal cell carcinoma increased by 145 percent between 1976-1984 and 2000-2010, while the rate of squamous cell carcinoma increased 263 percent over that same period. Melanoma rates in the United States doubled from 1982 to 2011. Skin cancer most often affects people over the age of 50, especially men, but melanoma is increasingly more common in younger women. It is estimated that more than 65,000 people a year worldwide die from melanoma, which is why protecting our skin every day is so important.
Research has found that people with more than 50 moles, atypical moles or large moles are at an increased risk of developing melanoma, as are those with light skin and freckles, and those with a personal or family history of melanoma.
One of the main risk factors for skin cancer is exposure to UV light from the sun or from artificial sources like tanning beds. Even one bad, blistering sunburn in childhood can almost double your chance of developing melanoma. Protecting your skin from day one is the best way to try to prevent skin cancer at any stage of life. If you know you’ll be spending time in the sun, use these tips to protect your skin:
- Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects from both UVA and UVB rays.
- A sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30.
- Apply a full ounce (enough to fill a shot glass) of sunscreen every 90 minutes while outside.
- Choose a water-resistant sunscreen that will last longer.
- Apply sunscreen before you go outside or get in the water so it doesn’t wear off immediately.
Sunscreen can reduce the amount of vitamin D that the body absorbs from the sun, but over-the-counter supplements are easily available.
Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics has discouraged the use of spray sunscreens with children because of the possibility of inhalation during application.
There are three forms of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and malignant melanoma. Individuals should examine their skin for a new spot or growth that bleeds, scabs and does not heal. A basal cell carcinoma can appear as a pearly red bump while a squamous cell carcinoma often looks like a red, scaly area or a sore that will not heal. Specifically, with melanoma (the least common, yet most dangerous form of skin cancer), individuals should use the ABCDE guidelines when examining their bodies:
A – Asymmetry – one half, unlike the other half.
B – Border Irregularity – irregular, scalloped or poorly defined border.
C – Color variation and/or change – varied from one area to another; shades of tan and brown, black; sometimes white, red or blue.
D – Diameter more than 6 mm (pencil eraser size) and/or change in diameter.
E – Evolving – a mole or skin lesion that looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape or color.
New, rapidly growing or changing moles that bleed should be examined by a dermatologist.
The earlier melanoma and other skin cancers are detected, the easier they are to treat. Therefore, it is extremely important to seek the advice of a medical professional if you detect an abnormal area on your skin. Cone Health has a network of dermatologists, cancer care specialists and other related healthcare providers dedicated to educating the community about skin cancer and providing exceptional treatment.
Dr. Laura Lomax is a dermatologist at Greensboro Dermatology Associates and a member of the Cone Health Medical Staff. Dr. Lomax is a 1985 graduate of University of North Carolina Chapel Hill School of Medicine and she completed her residency in Dermatology at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill Hospitals.