Causes and Clues on Skin Cancer
Skin cancer isn’t an unknown commodity any longer. Most people know at least something about skin cancer and usually take some measures to help prevent it. But at Skin Care Research we believe knowledge is the key, that’s why we conduct ongoing clinical trials into melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer. In this sunny July blog in South Florida, here’s some important information on skin cancer.
Who is at risk?
Skin cancer tends to develop in people with light skin. It is estimated that from 40 to 50% of people with fair skin who live to be at least 65 years old will develop at least one skin cancer in their lives. As you would expect, the incidence of skin cancer is higher in places with intense sunshine, places such as Florida, Arizona, and Hawaii. Overall, skin cancer is most common in Australia, which was settled by fair-skinned people of English and Irish descent.
What causes skin cancer?
Exposure to sunlight is the main cause of skin cancer, but it has different effects in different skin cancers. The ultraviolet rays in sunshine are the culprits, as they can alter the genetic material in skin cells, causing them to mutate. Basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas are linked to the amount of sun exposure a person receives. Fair-skinned people who spend a good deal of time outdoors will likely develop one of these two carcinomas. Melanoma is a bit different. The development of melanoma is thought to be related to excessive sun exposure that results in scorching sunburns, the type that peel and blister. It is estimated that just one blistering sunburn during childhood doubles a person’s risk for developing melanoma later in life.
Melanin is the issue. Melanin is the pigment in the skin that helps protect the skin. The reason people tan is because that is the response of melanin to the sun exposure, darkening the skin. Fair-skinned people have less melanin in their skin, so they have less protection. Redheads, blue-eyed blonds, and others with very light skin have the highest incidence of skin cancers.
Protect yourself by knowing your ABCDEs
These five letters can come in handy when looking for skin cancers on your skin.
- Asymmetry — If one half of the mole doesn’t match the other half, that’s a concern. Normal moles are symmetrical.
- Border — If the border or edges of your mole are ragged, blurred, or irregular, that is a reason to call a dermatologist. Melanoma lesions often have irregular borders.
- Color — Normal moles are a single shade throughout. If your mole has changed color or if it has different shades of tan, brown, black, blue, white, or red, then it should be checked.
- Diameter — If a mole is larger than the eraser of a pencil it needs to be checked.
- Evolving — If a mole evolves by shrinking, growing larger, changing color, itching or bleeding, or other changes it should be checked. Melanoma lesions often grow in size or gain height rapidly.
How can I protect my skin from the sun?
It’s not realistic to tell anyone to stay out of the sun in beautiful South Florida — that’s why we all live here! But when you’re out in the sun, these are ways to help lower your exposure to UV radiation and the elevated risk for developing skin cancer:
- Wear sunscreen — Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects for both UVA and UVB rays. It should be at least 30 SPF. Be cognizant of reapplying it after swimming and every couple hours at the beach.
- Wear hats and sleeves — In our Miami humidity, wearing protective sleeves isn’t always very realistic, but they obviously do provide lots of protection. Hats are a must.
- Avoid the sun between 11 and 3 — The highest sun is the strongest sun. If you are going out to the beach or other outdoor events, if you can schedule them in the morning or after 3:00 it’s a good idea.
- See a dermatologist — Skin cancers are usually very successfully treated when they are diagnosed early. That’s why everyone over the age of 40 needs to see a dermatologist once a year. If you have fair skin and got lots of sunburns when you were a kid, you may want to lower that age to 30 to start seeing a dermatologist.
- Check your skin — Use the information provided above and check your own skin and have a partner or friend check areas you can’t see like your back and the backs of your legs. Look for changes in spots or moles.
In a sunny place like Miami, we all need to be aware of the signs of skin cancer. We conduct clinical trials into melanoma. You may qualify for one. To find out, call Skin Care Research, (561) 948-3116.