Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States with more than three million cases diagnosed each year. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, approximately one in five Americans will develop skin cancer at some point in their life. Skin cancer may develop anywhere on the body but is most common on sun exposed areas such as the face, neck, ears, and extremities.
The majority of skin cancers are composed of either basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, or melanoma. These cancers are named after the type of skin cells from which they originate. Basal cell carcinomas originate from the bottom layer of the epidermis called basal cells. They are the most common and least aggressive form of skin cancer. Squamous cell carcinomas originate from the top layers of the epidermis called squamous cells. These cancers are less common than basal cell carcinomas but are more aggressive with the potential to spread (metastasize). Melanomas originate from pigment producing cells in the epidermis called melanocytes. While melanomas are the least common form of skin cancer, they are the most aggressive with a high risk of metastasis if left untreated.
Common risk factors for skin cancer include: fair skin, sun exposure, tanning beds, increased age, suppressed immune system, as well as multiple atypical or large moles. While skin cancers are common, they are highly curable if caught early and treated appropriately. Treatment depends on the type, size and location of the tumor.
Since the majority of skin cancers are due to UV radiation, sun protection and smart skin care are key factors in maintaining a healthy skin and reducing the risks of skin cancer. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, using a sunscreen with an SPF 15 or higher is an important part of a healthy skin regimen. However, sunscreen alone is not enough. The following guidelines help protect and care for your skin:
- Stay out of the sun during peak hours, from 10 am to 4 pm.
- Use a broad spectrum (UVB/UVA) sunscreen with SPF 15+ as part of your daily regimen. For extended outdoor activity, use a broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF30+ and reapply every two hours. It’s best to apply sunscreen half an hour before going outdoors.
- Remember, sunscreen does not make you immune to the sun. It only delays the time it takes to burn! Seek the shade when possible.
- Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
- Avoid tanning in the sun and tanning beds.
- Keep newborns out of the sun. Start using sunscreens on babies over the age of six months.
- Examine your skin monthly and contact your dermatologist if you notice any changes. For couples, its best to create a buddy system in which you examine your partner’s skin routinely.
Get regular skin examinations. It’s recommended that adults over the age of 40 get an annual skin exam by their dermatologist.