Is Skin Cancer Avoidable?

Is Skin Cancer Avoidable?

Skin cancer is primarily a lifestyle disease, and although it’s not entirely  avoidable, the good news is you can greatly reduce your risk by taking precaution. Yes, this means making adjustments in habits you are probably already aware of. Sun exposure, specifically ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun, tanning beds, or artificial sources of UV light damage the DNA in your skin cells and are the primary cause of skin cancer.

Some powerful statics show that 90% of non-melanoma skin cancers and 86% of all melanoma can be avoided by protecting your skin against UV light.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends the following:

  • Seek shade when appropriate, remembering the sun’s rays are strongest between 10 am and 2:00 pm.
  • Wear sun-protective clothing such as lightweight and long-sleeved shirts, pants, wide brimmed hats and sunglasses (yes, your eyes can be damaged also).
  • Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
  • Don’t forget your ears, tops of feet and hands, the top of your head and back of the neck. The ears and top of head are especially vulnerable areas.
  • Perform regular skin self-exams. Yes, it’s a thing, and important. Early detection has a very high cure rate. Some resources to learn how to do a self- exam can be found from these links-AAD, we also recommend ASDS, and The Skin Cancer Foundation.

Is Skin Cancer On the Rise?

Skin cancer cases have been on the rise for many years. Some contributions to this are people living longer (your chances of developing skin cancer does increase with age), better detection, and despite the warnings, people continuing to get excessive sun exposure. The exception to this is cases of melanoma which has seen a decline. A caveat however, sadly the number of deaths has increase and why it’s so important to know what to look for.

The ABCDE’s of Melanoma

This acronym is useful to help anyone identify a change in a mole or spot. Keep this in mind when doing a self-skin exam:

  • A– Asymmetry. Abnormal spots or moles that have an uneven shape to them.
  • B– Borders. Look for irregular, scalloped or poorly defined borders.
  • C– Color. Variations in color, such as tan, brown, or black. There can even be white, red, or blue present.
  • D-Diameter. Be aware of anything the size of a pencil eraser, although melanoma can present even smaller.
  • E-Evolving. The spot has changed in size, shape, or color.

 Non-Melanoma Skin Cancers

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common form of skin cancer, followed by squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). BCCs tend to be slow growing and are usually non-life threatening, same with SCC. Left untreated they can become life threatening so don’t ignore anything suspicious.

What to look for:

  • A new growth or sore that doesn’t heal.
  • A firm lump that is pink, red, or white.
  • A flat, dry, white patch.
  • A spot that has a tendency to bleed easily.
  • Irregular blood vessels on the surface.

Now that you have a good idea of how to reduce your chances of developing skin cancer, will you continue to exposure you skin to the sun? A recent article took a look at this, specifically targeting Gen Z who were 18-25 and by all accounts have had the most exposure to the dangers of tanning, tanning beds, and good ole baby oil and iodine stories from their parents. They’ve also had parents who knew enough to put sunscreen on them as kids. Here’s a short exert from the article:

  • 20% said that getting a tan was more important than preventing skin cancer
  •  71% said they were unaware of the risks associated with sunburn.
  •  36% reported having a sunburn in 2022.
  • 41% of those said the sunburn was severe enough that it made wearing clothing uncomfortable.

The take away is even though we know more, tanning is still widely accepted as a form of health and beauty. Maybe it’s that we don’t think we’ll get it, it’s no big deal, or it’s hard to imagine how our skin will look when we get older.

So, do we have you convinced to evaluate how you protect your skin and to make a change? We hope so. Dermatologists get to see first-hand what long term sun exposure does to the skin, and the surprising number of patients of all ages affected by skin cancer.

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