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Skin Cancer Awareness

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States

May is National Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month. This month is dedicated to increasing public awareness of the importance of skin cancer prevention, early detection, and treatment, including basal cell, squamous cell, and melanoma. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. More than 3.5 million skin cancers in over two million people are diagnosed annually.

Skin Cancer Facts

  • The risk of melanoma increases with age – the average age at the time it is found is 62. But melanoma is not uncommon even among those younger than 30. In fact, it is one of the most common cancers in young adults (especially young women).
  • Melanoma is more than 20 times more common in whites than in African Americans.
  • Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common form of skin cancer. BCCs are rarely fatal, but can be highly disfiguring if allowed to grow.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common form of skin cancer.
  • Actinic keratosis is the most common precancer; it affects more than 58 million Americans.
  • Between 40 and 50 percent of Americans who live to age 65 will develop skin cancer, either basal cell or squamous cell, at least once.
  • Who survives skin cancer? The 5-year survival rate for patients, whose melanoma is detected early, before the tumor has penetrated the skin, is about 97 percent. The 5-year survival rate falls to 15-20 percent for those with advanced disease.

Source: The American Cancer Society, Skin Cancer Facts.

Skin Cancer Risk Factors

Your skin type is one of the main factors in your risk for skin cancer. There are six skin phototypes, going from light to dark. Those individuals with skin types I and II face the highest risk of developing skin cancer, while types V and VI are at the lowest risk. That is because those with more pigmentation (types V and VI) have more natural protection from the sun. However, people with darker skin can nonetheless get skin cancer. Like light-skinned people, they should be cautious of the sun and have regular examinations by a doctor. Visit the Skin Cancer Foundation's Skin Types and At Risk Groups Guidelines page for more information.

What Are The Risk Factors for Skin Cancer?

A risk factor is anything that affects your chance of getting a disease such as cancer. Different cancers have different risk factors. For example, unprotected exposure to strong sunlight is a risk factor for skin cancer, and smoking is a risk factor for cancers of the lung, mouth, throat, kidneys, bladder, and several other organs.

But risk factors don't tell us everything. Having a risk factor, or even several risk factors, does not mean that you will get the disease. And many people who get the disease may not have had any known risk factors. Even if a person with basal or squamous cell skin cancer has a risk factor, it is often very hard to know how much that risk factor may have contributed to the cancer.

What Are The Risk Factors for Melanoma Skin Cancer?

  • Ultraviolet(UV) light exposure
  • Moles
  • Fair skin, freckling and light hair
  • Family history of melanoma
  • Personal history of melanoma or other skin cancers
  • Age
  • Gender (men are at higher risk)
  • Xeroderma pigmentosum (an inherited skin condition)

What are the risk factors for basal and squamous cell skin cancer?

  • Ultraviolet (UV) light exposure
  • Having light-colored skin
  • Older age
  • Male Gender
  • Exposure to certain chemicals
  • Radiation exposure
  • Previous history of skin cancer
  • Long-term or severe skin inflammation or injury
  • Psoriasis treatment
  • Xeroderma pigmentosum (XP)
  • Basal cell nevus syndrome (Gorlin syndrome)
  • Compromised immune system
  • Human papilloma virus (HPV) infection
  • Smoking

Source: American Cancer Society: What are the risk factors for basal and squamous cell skin cancers? and What are the risk factors for melanoma skin cancer?

Learn more about the risk factors and how to protect yourself from non-melanoma skin cancer on the American Cancer Society's Prevention & Early Detection: Skin Cancer - Nonmelanoma and Melanoma.

Skin Cancer Symptoms

What are the signs and symptoms of skin cancer? Skin cancer can be found early, and both doctors and patients play important roles in finding skin cancer. If you have any of the following symptoms, tell your doctor.

  • Any change on the skin, especially in the size or color of a mole or other darkly pigmented growth or spot, or a new growth
  • Scaliness, oozing, bleeding, or change in the appearance of a bump or nodule
  • The spread of pigmentation(color) beyond its border, such as dark coloring that spreads past the edge of a mole or mark
  • A change in sensation, itchiness, tenderness, or pain

Source: American Cancer Society - Skin Cancer Facts

Prevention Guidelines

The Skin Cancer Foundation has always recommended using a sunscreen with an SPF 15 or higher as one important part of a complete sun protection regimen. Sunscreen alone is not enough, however. Most skin cancers are preventable. To protect yourself, follow these skin cancer prevention tips:

  • Seek the shade, especially between 10 A.M. and 4 P.M.
  • Do not burn.
  • Avoid tanning and UV tanning booths.
  • Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
  • Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
  • Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside.
  • Reapply sunscreen every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
  • Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens should only be used on babies over the age of six months.
  • Examine your skin head-to-toe every month.
  • See your physician every year for a professional skin exam.

Source: Skin Cancer Foundation - Prevention Guidelines.

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