Guarding Against Skin Cancer

Woman applying sun screen on arm at the beach

Safeguard Your Skin: Skin Cancer Facts & Prevention

Summer offers longer days and more opportunities to get outside and enjoy an abundance of fresh air and sunshine. With more sun-drenched days spent outdoors, it’s important to properly protect your skin against skin cancer, the most common form of cancer diagnosed globally and within the U.S.

Skin cancer is a major health concern in the U.S., as statistics indicate

  • 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by age 70 years.
  • 2 million people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year.
  • more than 2 people die of skin cancer in the U.S. every hour.
  • having 5 or more sunburns doubles your risk for melanoma, the most aggressive type of skin cancer.
  • when detected early, the 5-year survival rate for melanoma is 99%.

Your local Capital Women’s Care family of health professionals wants to share the importance of protecting your skin and being vigilant about monitoring you and your family for skin cancer. We share valuable information about its risk factors, important identification characteristics relating to the major skin cancer types, subsequent diagnosis and treatment options, and skin cancer prevention tips to help you optimize your skin health.

Skin Cancer Basics

Our skin is the largest organ of our bodies and the most common location for cancer to develop.

Our body produces melanin, a dark brown to black pigment which occurs in our hair, irises of our eyes, and our skin. Melanin is responsible for providing pigmentation to absorb harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays and protect against cellular damage from UV light exposure.

In fact, when our skin is exposed to UV light from the sun’s rays, our body increases melanin production due to the immediate skin cell damage inflicted from sunlight exposure. This increase gives our skin a darker appearance, or tan, an appearance often misconstrued as an appearance of being healthy. Tanned skin indicates skin cell damage from UV rays has occurred.

Each time you expose unprotected skin to sunlight, the sun’s UV rays inflict more skin damage.  The more often skin is exposed to sunlight without protection, the greater the damage, which is cumulative. Over time, this build-up of cellular damage within the skin can potentially lead to skin cancer.

While skin cancer develops primarily on areas of sun-exposed skin, (scalp, face, lips, ears, neck, chest, arms and hands, and on the legs of women) it can also form on areas that rarely are exposed:  palms, beneath fingernails or toenails, and genital area.

Skin cancer affects people of all skin tones, including those with darker complexions. When melanoma occurs in people with dark skin tones, it's more likely to occur in areas not normally exposed to the sun, such as palms of hands and soles of feet.

Skin Cancer Risk Factors

Skin cancer risk factors include:

  • having fair skin.
  • having family or personal history of skin cancer. You are at greater risk if at least 1 parent or sibling is diagnosed or if you have a previous skin cancer diagnosis.
  • personal history of sunburns, including those with blistering.
  • having weakened immune system or taking immunosuppressant drugs.
  • getting radiation treatment for eczema or acne, which can lead to increased basal cell carcinoma risk.
  • chemical or radiation exposure.
  • multiple moles on the body or abnormal moles (dysplastic nevi)
  • excessive, unprotected sun exposure leading to multiple sunburns (from redness to blistering and peeling skin.)
  • living in sunny or high-altitude climates. People living in sunny, warm climates are exposed to more sunlight than those living in colder climates. Living at higher elevations, where the sunlight is strongest, also leads to greater radiation exposure. 
  • tanning bed use.

Skin Cancer Prevention

UV radiation from the sun isn’t just dangerous, it’s also sneaky. While causing premature aging and skin cancer, UV radiation can reach you even when you’re trying to avoid it, as it penetrates clouds and glass and bounces off snow, water and sand.

What’s more, sun damage accumulates throughout your lifetime, from prolonged outdoor exposure to simple activities like walking your dog, going from your car to the store and getting your mail.

That’s why preventing skin cancer by protecting yourself completely requires you to take a comprehensive approach to your skin’s health.

The Skin Cancer Foundation (SCF) recommends:

  • seek out shade, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • eliminate sunburn risk. 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 2 hours or after swimming or excessive sweating.
  • avoid UV tanning beds.
  • cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
  • keep newborns out of the sun. Use sunscreen on babies over 6 months of age.
  • examine your skin head-to-toe monthly
  • see a dermatologist at least once a year for a professional skin exam.
  • be aware of sun-sensitizing medications. Some common prescription and over-the-counter drugs, including antibiotics, can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about the side effects of any medications you take. If they increase sensitivity to sunlight, take extra precautions to stay out of the sun to protect your skin.
  • and follow daily sun protection guidelines.

Types of Skin Cancer

Skin cancer can occur when the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays damage the DNA of skin cells, causing mutations.

The major forms of skin cancer include:

  • Basal cell carcinoma – characteristics include birthmarks that are smooth and shiny that are skin-toned or slightly darker. They may also be raised with a centralized dimple.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma – this type is characterized as shiny marks which appear scalier than basal cell carcinoma. They appear as flat and/or reddish patches.
  • Melanoma – is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. This type is more aggressive as it spreads (metastasizes) quickly, and if left untreated can be fatal. The most common symptoms for melanoma include:
    • asymmetrical shape
    • borders that are irregular
    • colors of marks may be one of the following: black, brown, tan, blue, red, or white
    • diameter is often larger than 6 millimeters
    • and evolving relating to size or shape (getting larger) or color variances.

Other signs indicating potential skin cancer include:

  • suspicious skin changes, including sores which don’t heal; marks with a shiny, raised and/or scaly appearance; marks which bleed easily.
  • skin irritation (burning or itching) which doesn’t go away or heal.
  • having a mark which is unlike others clustered within the same area of skin, also known as an “ugly duckling.”
  • Having precancerous lesions, including actinic keratosis, the most common precancer which affects more than 58 million Americans.

Less common types of skin cancer include:

Kaposi sarcoma. This form develops in the skin's blood vessels and causes red or purple patches on skin or mucous membranes.

Kaposi sarcoma mainly occurs in people with weakened immune systems, like those diagnosed with AIDS and in those who have undergone organ transplants or are taking medications suppressing natural immunities. Others with increased risk of Kaposi sarcoma include young men living in Africa or older men of Italian or Eastern European Jewish decent.

Merkel cell carcinoma. This form causes firm, shiny nodules occurring on or just beneath skin and within hair follicles. Merkel cell carcinoma is most often found on the head, neck and trunk.

Sebaceous gland carcinoma. This uncommon and aggressive cancer originates in the skin’s oil glands, usually appearing as hard, painless nodules. They can develop anywhere, but most occur on the eyelid, where they're frequently mistaken for other eyelid concerns.

It’s important to monitor your skin for any changes that may indicate potential skin cancer. Check your skin thoroughly every month (using mirrors) and schedule a consultation at least once a year to get a thorough skin exam by your doctor or dermatologist. Catching skin cancer early is key to successful treatment and prognosis should you become diagnosed.

Skin Cancer Treatment Options

There are several treatment options, most of which may be done via outpatient care with minimal recovery for nonmelanoma cancers that haven’t metastasized. It’s important to note the earlier treatment occurs, the less chance of disfiguration and extensive treatment.

Treatments include:

Most squamous cell carcinomas can be cured when found and treated early. Treatment should occur as soon as possible after diagnosis, since more advanced SCCs are more difficult to treat and can become dangerous, spreading to local lymph nodes, distant tissues and organs. If you’ve been diagnosed with an SCC that hasn’t spread, effective outpatient treatments are used.

While melanoma is one of the most dangerous forms of skin cancer, promising new treatment options are improving quality of life and increasing survival rates for those with advanced melanoma. If you’ve been diagnosed, your treatment choices depend on the stage of the disease, the location of the tumor and your overall health.

Melanoma treatment options may include any one or combination of:

Whatever your diagnosis, ask your doctor to clearly explain the best options for you, including details about treatment benefits and subsequent risks.
Your Capital Women’s Care team is here should you have questions or concerns relating to your health. Our comprehensive network of caring and knowledgeable healthcare professionals is here to help you achieve and enjoy optimal, quality health and a long life.

Sources: (STATS)

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The providers of Capital Women's Care seek the highest quality medical and ethical standard in an environment that nurtures the spirit of caring for every woman.


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