Summer is on its way and people will get more exposure to the suns’ rays than any other time of year. We’ve all heard the word of caution about too much sun causing skin cancer, but specifically it’s the Ultraviolet (UV) light exposure that is overwhelmingly the most frequent cause of skin cancer. Since May is Skin Cancer Detection & Prevention Month, and skin cancer affects more than 1 million people in the United States each year, I thought I’d dedicate some time to the topic.
Skin Cancer Causes
Other than frequent, unprotected sun exposure, some significant causes of skin cancer include:
1. The frequent use of tanning booths, which, like the sun, expose the skin to harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.
2. Immune system compromise, which impairs the body’s ability to fight disease. A suppressed immune system affects the ability of the body to regenerate and repair at the cellular level. Ways to improve the immune system are to stress less and laugh more, drink more water and less alcohol, eat antioxidant rich foods rather than empty calories and sugar, as well as take a probiotic to promote beneficial gut flora.
3. Regular exposure to electromagnetic wave of high energy and very short wavelength, such as Xrays. And exposure to certain chemicals, such as arsenic and those in tar, oils and soot.
People with Greater Risk
– Besides outside environmental factors, certain people are predisposed to skin cancer. These are the characteristics of the people who are at greater risk:
– Fair skin that burns easily from the sun exposure and freckles easily
– Blond or redheads with blue or green eyes
– Depleted skin pigmentation, such as from certain genetic disorders like albinism and xeroderma pigmentosum.
– Previous cancer or close family members who have had skin cancer
– Birthmark of a large mole, or numerous moles and unusual moles that developed later in life
– Experienced a severe sunburn in childhood
“ABCD’s” of Cancer Detection
1. Asymmetry: one side not looking like the other
2. Border irregularity: rough, jagged or bumpy edges
3. Color: mixture of black, tan, brown, blue, red, or white
4. Diameter: larger than the size of a pencil eraser (about 6 mm across) or noticeable increase in size
Kinds of Skin Cancer
The skin is the largest organ in the body and skin cancer is the most common of all cancers. There are three major kinds of skin cancer:
Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)
Melanoma is actually the most frequent cancer in people age 25 to 29 years. About a third of all melanoma are diagnosed before the age of 50, although most skin cancers are diagnosed between 50 and 75 years old. Squamous cell carcinomas and basal cell carcinomas, which are the vast majority of skin cancers, are more common in older people. Unlike the Melanomas, the BCCs or SCC usually do not spread to other parts of the body.
It is important to self check using the “ABCD’s” and to regularly be checked by a dermatologist.
A doctor can send away a biopsy of a questionable mole or marking to tell if it’s cancerous.
Fortunately, you can reduce your risk of getting skin cancer. This is one of the main reasons why I recommend safeguarding yourself when you enjoy the beautiful weather with sunscreen, protective clothing, sunglasses and a hat.
Prevention and early detection are key with skin cancer. Enjoy the beautiful summer weather, but please do so safely. If you have any more questions, please consult your dermatologist.
Steven Davison M.D.
Board Certified Plastic Surgeon