There are three basic types of skin cancer. The most common and least life threatening is basal cell carcinoma. The other two are squamous cell carcinoma and malignant melanoma. Melanoma is the most serious of all skin cancers. The American Cancer Society predicts that about 7,600 people will die of the disease this year.
Skin Cancer Risks
Many factors increase a person’s chance of getting skin cancer. People of all skin types and colors can get it.
The most common risk factors:
- Moles on the skin. Moles are usually harmless pigmented fleshy growths, but if you have a lot of them or have some that are large, you have a higher risk of getting skin cancer.
- A fair complexion. Those with pale skin, blonde hair, blue eyes and freckles are at high risk of getting skin cancer.
- A family history of skin cancer. If a close relative (mother, father, brother, sister) has had skin cancer, you may be at risk.
- Too much time in the sun. If you spend a lot of time in the sun you could be at risk for skin cancer. If you had one bad sunburn as a child or teenager, you are at a high risk for getting skin cancer.
- Tanning beds also increase your risk for skin cancer.
- Age. Skin cancer can happen to anyone at any age, but about half of the cases of skin cancer occur in people older than 50.
How you can tell if you have a potential problem:
Check your skin every month for marks or moles whose edges become less defined or change color. If you see a new strange-looking mark on your skin, if a mark you already have changes color or gets bigger, or if you have a wound that won’t heal or which bleeds spontaneously, make an appointment to see your dermatologist (skin care medical specialist) immediately.
To reduce your chances of getting skin cancer:
- Try to avoid being in the sun too long, especially in the middle of the day.
- If you are outside for long periods of time, wear a hat with a wide brim and be sure to use sunscreen lotion or gel.
- Sunscreen should have a sun protective factor (SPF) of 15 or more to block out the harmful rays of the sun. Apply it on all body parts that will be exposed to the sun – face, ears, chest, arms, legs, tops of feet and back
- Sunscreen should be put on every 2 hours for the best protection. It should be reapplied after swimming or sweating
- Use sunscreen even on partially cloudy days because the sun’s rays are still strong
- Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes. Wraparound sunglasses give the best protection
- Avoid tanning booths or sun lamps.
Protect yourself with the Slip, Slop, Slap Rule of Sun Safety:
Slip on a shirt.
Slop on sunscreen and smooth it evenly over your face and any body parts exposed to the sun.
Slap on a hat.
Source: American Cancer Society, www.cancer.org Compiled by Abigail Scott, associate editor at ADVANCE