The most common cancer in the United States is skin cancer. Reports state 3.5 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed annually. The United States Health Department reports that ultraviolet radiation causes almost 90 percent of all skin-cancer cases. The biggest challenge in reducing skin cancer today is increasing the general public's awareness about prevention of the disease.
About Skin Cancer
Skin cancer begins with an abnormal growth of skin cells on the surface of the skin. This abnormal growth occurs mostly on areas of skin that have received high exposure to harmful ultraviolet radiation from sunlight. The abnormal skin cells lead to mainly three types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. People who notice suspicious changes in their skin should report the change to their doctors immediately. The sooner the skin cancer is detected, the better someone's chances for successful treatment.
Risk factors for skin cancer include:
• Having fair skin
• Excessive exposure to sunlight
• Having a history of sunburn and damage to the skin
• Living at high altitudes
• Having many abnormal moles / precancerous skin growths
• A family history of skin cancer
• A weak immune system
• Physical exposure to arsenic
Minimizing exposure to ultraviolet radiation is essential for preventing skin cancer. To do so, anyone can follow these six guidelines:
Avoid Periods of Intense Sunlight
Sunburn and tans extensively damage skin cells. Avoiding exposure to strong sunlight between the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. is advised. Even on cloudy days and especially during winter, when snow reflects sunlight onto exposed skin, harmful ultraviolet rays can still do damage. A safe rule is to schedule outdoor activities after 4 p.m. as often as possible.
Anyone who needs to go out during a period of heavy sunlight must apply sunscreen; this is essential. Sunscreen should be applied about 30 minutes before going outside, whether during cloudy or sunny conditions. The lotion should thoroughly cover all parts of the body, including the back of the ears, neck, and exposed parts of a bald head. While swimming or sweating, a person should reapply sunscreen every hour. Even when not getting wet, sunscreen naturally leaves the skin after about two hours; this means everyone who is outside should reapply sunscreen that often.
Wear Protective Clothing
Clothing that covers the entire body protects from UV radiation best. Long-sleeved shirts and full-length pants are recommended for most protection. Some companies go beyond this simple coverage by manufacturing sun-protective clothes from chemically protective fabrics. To protect the face from sunlight, a hat with a six-inch brim along all sides is necessary. Additionally, sunglasses can protect the eyes, which are particularly vulnerable to UV exposure.
Avoid Tanning Beds
Tanning beds emit ultraviolet rays as harmful as those of the sun, and these rays increase a person’s risk of skin cancer. People who use these artificial tanning methods receive 12 times the amount of ultraviolet radiation compared to typical sunlight exposure. Reports state as many as 30 million people tan this way in the U.S. Out of those 30 million people, 2.3 million are teenagers.
Knowing a Medication's Side Effects
Certain medications can increase skin's sensitivity to sunlight; these include medications used to treat high blood pressure and diabetes, antibiotics, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen. People with sensitive skin should consult a doctor or pharmacist regarding the possible risk of increased skin sensitivity from any medications they may begin taking.
Examine Changes in Skin
The face, ears, scalp, neck, underarms, chest, torso, genital areas, and all other parts of the body exposed to sunlight should be checked for skin growths or changes; this is especially true in areas of skin with existing freckles, moles, and birthmarks. If any skin change develops, a doctor should learn about the change immediately. Skin changes of which to be aware include:
• A new, fast-growing mole
• A bleeding mole
• A crusted, scaly growth on the skin
• An itchy mole
• A sore that develops without healing
• The development of a patch of skin that feels rough
To check for skin cancer or signs of concern, a person should stand in front of a mirror and examine his or her body. A hand-held mirror should be used to see the back regions, which cannot be neglected when checking for skin changes. Always follow the ABCDE rule:
• A stands for asymmetry: Moles should be symmetrical. A mole that appears divided into halves or otherwise asymmetrical needs to be examined by a doctor.
• B stands for border: The borders of cancerous freckles, moles, and birthmarks are typically jagged or blurry.
• C stands for color: Changes in the color of a mole takes place when cancer develops. These changes include loss of color, darkening, color spreading to surrounding skin, and a mole taking on different hues such as purple, gray, white, red, pink, or blue.
• D stands for diameter: A mole with a diameter larger than a fourth of an inch should be checked.
• E stands for elevation: A mole elevated or raised above the skin surface need also be checked.
About 20 Americans die each day from skin cancer, chiefly melanoma. A patient whose melanoma is detected in its earliest stage has an almost 99 percent chance of survival. There are five stages of melanoma; as the cancer progresses into the next stage, a patient's chance of survival roughly halves.