You may be surprised to hear skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. In fact, researchers at the American Cancer Society tell us more skin cancers are diagnosed in the United States each year than all other cancers combined. But knowing some basic skin cancer facts can keep you safe in the sun all summer long.
Skin cancer affects more than three million people each year, but it doesn’t have to. That’s because most skin cancers are caused by too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays, which typically comes from spending too much time in the sun. Some skin cancers may come from man-made sources, like indoor tanning beds and sun lamps, but in either case you can take precautions that will drastically decrease your risk.
If you are diagnosed with skin cancer, your chances of making a full recovery improve tremendously if you catch it early. But detection has to start with you. So, here are some skin cancer facts you shouldn’t ignore if you want to stay safe in the sun.
Skin Cancer Fact: Your Best Defense
One of the most obvious skin cancer facts you may come across is how to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays. You should start by putting sunscreen on all exposed skin.
Some key sun safety tips from the Food and Drug Administration include:
- Use broad spectrum sunscreens with SPF values of 15 or higher regularly and as directed. Broad spectrum sunscreens protect against both UVA and UVB rays.
- Reapply sunscreen at least every two hours, and more often if you're sweating or jumping in and out of the water. Water-resistant sunscreens can provide protection for wet or sweaty skin for 40 or 80 minutes.
- Limit time in the sun, especially between the hours of 10am and 2pm, when the sun’s rays are most intense.
- Wear clothing to cover skin exposed to the sun, such as long-sleeved shirts, pants, sunglasses and broad-brimmed hats.
You should apply your sunscreen about 30 minutes before you go outside. You’ll need at least one ounce of sunscreen, or about the amount it takes to fill a shot glass, to evenly cover your body from head to toe.
Even on cloudy days, up to 80 percent of the sun's harmful UV rays can reach your skin
And if you have kids you should start talking to a pediatrician about skin cancer prevention early. The U.S. Preventative Task Force recommends as soon as when your child is 6 months old.
Skin Cancer Fact: Melanoma is Most Harmful Form
There are multiple types of skin cancer;he most harmful form is Melanoma.
Melanoma develops when the sun’s UVA rays enter the epidermis. The UVA rays causes a reaction with melanin in your skin. The reaction is meant to protect your skin—it’s a tan. But UVA rays go deeper into your skin and penetrate through the epidermis cells to the blood vessels and nerves. This can cause a weakening of the immune system and allow melanoma to develop.
Melanoma is treatable if detected early. If not, advanced melanoma can spread to your lymph nodes and internal organs, and kill you.
Skin Cancer Fact: The ABCDE Rule
Melanoma can be indicated by moles that have irregular shapes or color. To determine if you have a mole exhibiting signs of melanoma, follow the “ABCDE rule.” This stands for:
- Asymmetry: The two halves of your mole no longer match.
- Border: The outside edge of your mole is irregular.
- Color: The color is not consistent or looks different from your other moles.
- Diameter: If your mole is larger than six millimeters across, it might be cause for concern.
- Evolving: If your mole has “evolved,” or changed, in size, shape or color.
If you notice a mole that is changing in any of the above categories, make an appointment with your dermatologist immediately. Since it can be a challenge to check certain parts of your body yourself, like your scalp and back, it’s also a good idea to make regular “mole check” appointments for early detection.
Aside from fading with age, your moles should generally stay the same size and shape for years to come. If you have a mole that changes in size, shape or color, it might be a sign that melanoma is developing.
Skin Cancer Fact: Other Types of Skin Cancer
One skin cancer fact many people don’t realize is that melanoma is not the only type you should be concerned about. The American Academy of Dermatology describes the three other types of skin cancer like this:
- Actinic Keratoses—These are dry, scaly patches or spots that are precancerous growths. They usually affect people who have fair skin and tends to develop after years of sun exposure, so after 40 years old. They’re typically found on the skin that gets lots of sun exposure, such as the head, neck, hands, and forearms.
- Basal cell carcinomas—Basal cell cancers are characterized by a spot, patch or sore that doesn’t heal after several weeks. Your skin might have small raised bumps that bleed or form scabs. They can form anywhere on your body.
- Squamous cell carcinomas—Look for growing bumps that sometimes become rough, scaly or crusty on the surface. While both these carcinomas can be difficult to diagnose in yourself, a good rule of thumb is to visit the doctor if you notice a patch that doesn’t appear to heal after a significant period of time.
Preventing skin cancer starts with you, so regular mole checks are an important part of decreasing your risk.
Skin Cancer Fact: Risk Factors to Look For
People with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop skin cancer.
- Fair Skin
- Family History
- Weakened Immune System
- Being Male
When it comes to your skin health, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Skin cancer can be easily treated if detected early, so be vigilant about your personal checks. Also remember to wear sunscreen, reapply, take breaks from the sun, and drink lots of water. You can also download our free “Summer Survival Guide”, which has six more tips on how to stay safe in the sun.