Long summer days draw people outside for longer periods of time. More time in the sun presents an added risk of skin cancer. The risk factors are present every day, so try to be sun sensible and reduce your chances of developing skin cancer.
Here’s an overview of skin cancer and its three types, plus risk factors, signs, and symptoms.What is skin cancer?
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. The two most common types of skin cancer—basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas—are highly curable, but can be disfiguring and costly. Melanoma, the third most common skin cancer, is more dangerous and causes the most deaths. The majority of these three types of skin cancer are caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light.
People with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop skin cancer. Risk factors vary for different types of skin cancer, but here’s a general list:
- A lighter natural skin color
- Family history of skin cancer
- Exposure to the sun through work or play
- A history of sunburns, especially early in life
- A history of indoor tanning
- Skin that burns or reddens easily, or becomes painful in the sun
- Blue or green eyes
- Blonde or red hair
- Certain types of moles and a large quantity of them
UV rays come from the sun or from indoor tanning (using a tanning bed, booth, or sunlamp to get tan). When UV rays reach the skin’s inner layer, the skin makes more melanin. Melanin is the pigment that colors the skin. It moves toward the outer layers of the skin and becomes visible as a tan. People burn or tan depending on their skin type, the time of year, and how long they are exposed to UV rays. The six types of skin, based on how likely it is to tan or burn, include:
- Always burns, never tans, sensitive to UV exposure
- Burns easily, tans minimally
- Burns moderately, tans gradually to light brown
- Burns minimally, always tans well to moderately brown
- Rarely burns, tans profusely to dark
- Never burns, deeply pigmented, least sensitive
A change in your skin is the most common sign of skin cancer. This could be a new growth, a sore that doesn’t heal, or a change in a mole. Not all skin cancers look the same. Skin cancers–including melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma–often start as changes to your skin. They can be new growths or precancerous lesions– changes that are not cancer but could become cancer over time.
Learn to spot the early warning signs. Skin cancer can be cured if it's found and treated early. A simple way to remember the signs of melanoma is to remember the ABCs of Melanoma:
- “A” stands for asymmetrical. Does the spot have an irregular shape with two parts that look very different?
- “B” stands for border. Is the border irregular or jagged?
- “C” is for color. Is the color uneven?
- “D” is for diameter. Is the spot larger than the size of a pea?
- “E” is for evolving. Has the spot changed during the past few weeks or months?
Although skin cancer is the most common of all cancer types, you can protect your skin from the damaging effects of sun exposure and minimize your risk.
REMEMBER: If you notice changes in your skin, have a sore that doesn’t heal, or experience any of the ABCs above, consult your doctor or dermatologist immediately.