With over a million new cases diagnosed each year in the United States, skin cancer is indeed a widespread reality. In fact, this form of cancer accounts for roughly half of all newly diagnosed cancers. Even with this fact, very few are informed about the risk factors, symptoms, and treatment of this potentially preventable and curable condition.
Like most cancers, there are two forms of skin cancer – nonmelanoma and melanoma. About 95% of all skin cancers are of the nonmelanoma type, and as cancer biology nomenclature suggests, the cancer has not metastasized. In contrast, melanoma arises from the pigmented skin cells known as melanocytes and is far more dangerous since the cancer usually metastasizes before the tumor has been noticed. In either case, cancer is cancer. Fortunately in this case, the same preventative measures can be taken to reduce one’s chances for acquiring it.
So far, what amazes me is the utter ignorance when dealing with outdoor activities. In the summer time, it’s natural for people to enjoy recreational sports like swimming, tennis, biking, etc. Just keep in mind that your skin isn’t as forgiving as you wish it was. Now I’ll interject my biased opinion – the overwhelming majority of skin cancer cases can be linked to excessive exposure to UV light.
Why am I saying this? Well, quite frankly, the numbers speak for themselves. Some may argue that immunocompromised individuals or exposure to certain chemicals/radiation may increase one’s chances for getting skin cancer; however, how many public service announcements have you seen advocating the usage of sun screen? They’re not just saying that since it makes your skin look all shiny. There’s scientific evidence supporting their suggestion. The research behind UV light’s interaction with DNA, the formation of thymine dimers, the body’s innate repair response to fix damaged DNA and so on is more than enough to convince a semi-educated person about the dangers of UV light. Yet I ask, why do all of us take it for granted? “We have our youth! We’ll worry about skin cancer when we’re 50+ years of age.” Too bad for those people that even teenagers are routinely diagnosed with metastatic melanoma. And to those who have an insatiable desire to use a tanning bed on a weekly basis. What good is your beautiful, golden tan going to do when you’re unnecessarily being hospitalized later in life? Seriously, think about it.
What I advise is the following:
- Wear sunscreen when you’re outdoors. Not only will your skin thank you in twenty years, but you’ll prevent premature skin aging and the wonderful signs it leaves behind (ie, wrinkles).
- Make sure you wear enough sunscreen. A typical, small tube (roughly 5 ounces) should be used up within a weekend. An expensive, SPF 60 sunscreen is going to act more like an SPF 30 if not applied liberally.
- Think about investing in sun-protective clothing for activities like swimming where prolonged sun exposure becomes a problem.
- Roughly every few months, follow this self-checkup by Howcast. It outlines the famous “ABCD” method for diagnosing skin cancer.
Hopefully if we start to get into a good habit about this, we’ll begin to see cancer rates steadily decline over the next decade. (Source: Professor Lewis J. Kleinsmith)