Skin Cancer Basics

Skin cancer occurs when skin cells start growing abnormally, causing cancerous growths. Most skin cancers develop on the visible outer layer of the skin (the epidermis), particularly in sun-exposed areas (face, head, hands, arms, and legs). They are usually easy to detect by examining the skin, which increases the chances of early treatment and survival.

Of all the cancers that humans can get, skin cancer is the most common, which is why the American Academy of Dermatology recommends an annual full body skin exam to be performed on all adults. This is especially important for patients with a personal history of extensive sun exposure, and those with lighter colored skin. Prevention and early diagnosis are important factors in maintaining overall skin health.

Who Gets Skin Cancer?

People of all races and colors can get skin cancer. Those with light skin who sunburn easily have a higher risk. Using indoor tanning devices such as tanning beds and sunlamps also increases the risk of developing skin cancer.

What Does Skin Cancer Look Like?

There are several different forms of skin cancer, and they all are a little bit different. The earliest stage of skin cancer is Actinic Keratoses (AK), and if left untreated, it can develop into Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC). The most common form of skin cancer is Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC), which frequently appears as a flesh-colored, pearl like bump. BCC can invade the surrounding tissue and grow into the nerves and bones, causing damage and disfigurement. Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer and typically develops in a mole or appears suddenly as a new dark spot on the skin.

With early detection and proper treatment, the cure rate for BCC and SCC is about 95%. When melanoma is detected before it spreads, it also has a high cure rate. Regular skin exams help people find early skin cancers. Performing a skin self-exam.

8 Ways To Protect Yourself From Skin Cancer Right Now

  1. Generously apply a broad-spectrum water-resistant sunscreen with a SPF of 30 or more to all exposed skin when outdoors. The most effective sunscreens will include Zinc Oxide or Titanium Dioxide in their ingredients.
  2. Wear protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses where possible.
  3. Seek shade. The sun’s rays are strongest between 10 am and 4pm.
  4. Protect children from sun exposure by playing in the shade, wearing protective clothing, and applying sunscreen.
  5. Use extra caution near water, snow, and sand as they reflect the damaging rays of the sun which can increase your chance of sunburn.
  6. Get vitamin D safely through a healthy diet that may include vitamin supplements.
  7. Avoid tanning beds. Ultraviolet light from the sun and tanning beds can cause skin cancer and wrinkling.
  8. Do a yearly self skin-exam. If you notice anything changing, growing, or bleeding on your skin, contact a dermatologist.