Skin cancer is amongst one of the most common types of cancers. Particularly during the summertime, as we all tend to bathe in the summer sun, there are more frequent cases of people pre-diagnosed with cancerous skin conditions attributed to harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. However, this common form of cancer can also occur in areas of your skin not ordinarily exposed to sunlight.
Continue reading to learn more about skin cancer and the importance of prevention.
WHAT IS SKIN CANCER?
The human skin is the body’s largest organ. The skin has several layers, but the two main layers are the epidermis (upper or outer layer) and the dermis (lower or inner layer). Skin cancer is the abnormal growth of skin cells. Skin cancer begins in the epidermis, which is made up of three kinds of cells:
- Squamous Cells: Thin, flat cells that form the top layer of the epidermis.
- Basal Cells: Rounded cells under the squamous cells.
- Melanocytes: Cells that make melanin and are found in the lower part of the epidermis. Melanin is the pigment that gives skin its color. When skin is exposed to the sun, melanocytes make more pigment and cause the skin to darken.
Basal and squamous cell carcinomas are the two most common types of skin cancer. Both can usually be cured, but they can be disfiguring and expensive to treat. Melanoma, the third kind of skin cancer, begins in the melanocytes. Of all types of skin cancers, melanoma causes the most deaths because it tends to spread to other parts of the body, including vital organs like the lungs, liver, and brain.
WHAT CAUSES SKIN CANCER?
Generally, skin cancer occurs when mutations occur in the DNA of skin cells. The mutations cause the cells to grow uncontrollably and form a mass of cancer cells. Basal cell skin cancer can be caused by ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun or tanning beds. Squamous cell skin cancer is also caused by UV exposure. Squamous cell skin cancer can also develop after long-term exposure to cancer-causing chemicals. It can develop within a burn scar or ulcer, and may also be caused by some types of human papillomavirus (HPV).
The cause of melanoma is unclear. Most moles don’t turn into melanomas, and medical researchers aren’t sure why some do. Like basal and squamous cell skin cancers, melanoma can be caused by UV rays. However, melanomas can develop in parts of your body that aren’t typically exposed to direct sunlight.
WHERE CAN SKIN CANCERS DEVELOP?
Skin cancer develops primarily on areas of sun-exposed skin, including:
- The Scalp
It can also form on areas that rarely see the light of day such as your palms, beneath your fingernails or toenails, and your genital area. Skin cancer affects people of all skin tones, including those with darker complexions.
Certain factors may raise your risk of developing cancerous skin cells such as:
- Have a family history of cancerous skin condition
- Are exposed to certain substances, like arsenic compounds, radium, pitch, or creosote
- Exposure to radiation, for example during certain treatments for acne or eczema
- Excessive or unprotected exposure to UV rays from the sun, tanning lamps, tanning booths, or other sources
- Live or vacation in sunny, warm, or high-altitude climates
- Work outdoors frequently
- Have a history of severe sunburns
- Have multiple, large, or irregular moles
- Have skin that’s pale or freckled
- Skin that sunburns easily or doesn’t tan
- Natural blond or red hair
- Blue or green eyes
- Have precancerous skin growths
- A weak immune system, for example from HIV
- Had an organ transplant and take immunosuppressant medication
IS SKIN CANCER PREVENTABLE?
To lower your risk of skin cancer, avoid exposing your skin to sunlight and other sources of UV radiation for extended periods. For example:
- Avoid tanning beds and sun lamps.
- Avoid direct sun exposure when the sun is strongest, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., by staying indoors or in the shade during those times.
- Apply sunscreen and lip balm with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher to any exposed skin at least 30 minutes before heading outdoors and reapply regularly.
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat and dry, dark, tightly woven fabrics when you’re outside during daylight hours.
- Wear sunglasses that offer 100 percent UVB and UVA protection.
It’s also important to regularly examine your skin for changes like new growths or spots. Tell your doctor if you notice anything suspicious. If you develop skin cancer, identifying and treating it early can help improve your long-term outlook.
As you head outdoors for warmer weather and fresh air, we encourage you to practice proper health precautions. Cancerous skin conditions are amongst the most common cancer in the U.S., and unprotected UV exposure is the most preventable risk factor.
To protect your skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays and reduce your risk, make sure to seek shade when appropriate, wear sun-protective clothing, and apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Remember to reapply every two hours or after swimming.
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