Protect Your Skin from Cancer

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Three Main Skin Cancers

Basal Cell

Basal cell is the most frequent occurrence of skin cancer and most slow growing. It is least likely to spread to other body organs, but can grow into surrounding tissue and bone. It is curable and the least disfiguring with early treatment.

Squamous Cell

Squamous cell occurs less frequently, but grows faster and spreads to other organs more often. It is curable and least disfiguring with early treatment.

Malignant Melanoma

Malignant melanoma is relatively uncommon, but frequency has been increasing dramatically, particularly in warmer climates. It grows quickly and spreads to many organs. It is curable with early treatment, however, it is usually fatal if ignored during the early stages. Usually occurs as a small mole-like growth or arises from a pre-existing mole.

Early Warning Signs and Risk Factors

Basal and Squamous Cell

  • Frequently characterized by a pale, waxy, pearly nodule which may eventually ulcerate and bleed, or by a red scaly, sharply outlined patch, or by a scar-like patch.
  • Starts as a very small area and becomes very large.
  • Occurs mainly on sun-exposed areas, such as the head, neck, hands and arms, but can appear on any area of the skin.
  • Is usually painless.

Malignant Melanoma

Follow the ABCs: Do your moles show:

  • A for asymmetry: The mole is no longer symmetrical?
  • B for border irregularity: Border is notched where it used to be regular?
  • C for color change: A darker color, different color, or uneven color, or the spreading of color from the edge onto the surrounding skin?
  • D for diameter increase: Or the appearance of an entirely new mole?
  • E for elevation change: In part or all of a mole?
  • F for feeling change: A mole becomes itchy, red, swollen, softer or harder, oozes, crusts, bleeds or ulcerates?

If you have one or more of these irregularities on your skin, bring it to your dermatologist's attention immediately. If it is found in the precancerous stage or during its early growth phase, a melanoma can be easily removed easily and completely cured.

Be aware that you may have an increased risks of malignant melanoma if you have:

  • A mole that exhibits any of the early warning signs.
  • Family members who have had a malignant melanoma.
  • Had a malignant melanoma in the past.
  • Fair skin, light eye color, sunburn easily and tan with difficulty.
  • Had large moles since birth.
  • A history of painful or blistering sunburns.
  • Considerable outdoor exposure to the sun and live in a sunny climate.
  • An indoor occupation and enjoy outdoor recreation.

Skin Cancer FAQs

How do sunscreens work?

Sunscreens work by either absorbing or blocking ultraviolet light. Examples of absorbers are PARA, benzophenones and cinnamates. Examples of sun blockers are zinc oxide, titanium dioxide and ichthammol. Most sunscreens have two or three absorbers to block a higher percentage and broader range of wavelengths.

What does the SPF (sun protection factor) number mean?Sun Protection Factor

This number enables you to select the optimal amount of sun protection and make intelligent choices among the many sunscreens on the market. Dermatologists recommend that the fairer the individual, the higher the SPF. An SPF of at least 15 is recommended for year-round use.

Can excess sun exposure cause premature aging?

Yes. People who spend time in the sun for years without sunscreen protection usually develop a tough, leathery skin that can make them look 15 to 20 years older. Ultraviolet ray A is believed to play a key role in aging the skin.

Are tanning salons safe?

No. Tanning booth lights are primarily ultraviolet A rays (previously presumed to be less dangerous), but also emit considerable ultraviolet B rays (directly linked with increased risk of skin cancer). Increasing data suggests that "UVA" is not a safe source of light. Hence, the UV rays used by tanning salons cause the skin to age prematurely, and can cause cataracts and damage to circulatory and immune systems.

Is damage to skin reversible?

No.

Do people with darker complexions have to worry about using a sunscreen?

Yes. Dark-skinned people can also get severely sunburned.

What is the worst time of day to be out in the sun?

10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

What is the standard way to treat skin cancer?

Surgical removal of the affected areas. This is usually done in an outpatient setting using a local anesthetic.

Is skin cancer hereditary?

No, skin cancer itself does not appear to be hereditary. However, the more fair-skinned the family and the closer to the equator the family members live, the greater the risk of skin cancer.

Are all skin changes cancerous?

Certainly not, but from outward appearances it is often difficult for even an experienced physician to make an accurate diagnosis. When this happens, the doctor will use an anesthetic to numb the area, then remove part or all of the abnormal skin so the cells can be examined under a microscope to permit an accurate diagnosis and development of a treatment plan.

Besides the SPF, what else should be considered in the selection of a sunscreen?

1. If getting a water-resistant sunscreen, its effectiveness after brief water exposure.
2. If you have sensitive skin, is the product hypoallergenic?
3. Do you prefer a moisturizing oil-based product or a drying alcohol-based product?
4. Select your product to avoid any of the ultraviolet absorbing ingredients commonly used in sunscreens to which you know yourself to be allergic.
5. Find a product you enjoy using. You'll be less likely to forget to apply it daily.

Are there special sunscreens for infants?

Yes. Ask your doctor or pharmacist which sunscreens are considered best.

Can sunscreens ever cause cancer?

No. There is no evidence that any sunscreen product causes cancer. However, earlier sunscreen products did not effectively block all of the sun's ultraviolet rays. By having some, but not all of the rays blocked, sunbathers may have increased their risk of some skin cancers. This may partially account for the growing incidence of melanomas.

Do sunscreens lose their effectiveness over time?

Yes. Most sunscreens begin to lose their effectiveness after a year of shelf life.

Is there a safe tan?

No. A tan is the body's protective response to radiation exposure.

Are there tricks to properly applying sunscreen?

  • Apply every day one-half hour before sun exposure.
  • Reapply at least every two hours during extended sun exposure.
  • Always reapply after swimming, perspiring heavily, and vigorous or frequent toweling off.
  • Don't forget to cover your ears, lips, nose, and backs of hands.
  • Remember to use sunscreens when you are near the snow, water or other reflective surfaces.