Whether you tan easily or burn in seconds, it’s essential to shield your skin from skin cancer. Discover the basics about diagnosing and preventing this life-threatening condition for healthier, more beautiful skin.
Exposing the truth about skin cancer
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, and, while other cancers diagnoses are mostly in decline, skin cancer rates continue to rise. Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about the risks associated with this condition. Here are the myths and facts:
Myth: Only individuals with fair skin that burns easily and many moles are at risk.
Fact: Basal cell carcinoma is the most common cancer in Caucasians, Hispanics, Chinese, and Japanese. Also, while darker skin ethnicities are at lower risk, skin cancer still occurs in these populations and can be fatal.
Myth: Most sun damage occurs before age 18. Now that I’m older, it’s safe to tan.
Fact: Less than 25 percent of total sun exposure occurs before the age of 18. Avoiding the sun at any age can reduce the risk of developing skin cancer later in life.
Myth: I don’t use indoor tanning beds, so I’m not at risk.
Fact: While indoor tanning is dangerous, approximately 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers are linked with sun exposure.
Myth: I’m too young to develop skin cancer. I don’t need to screen until after 40.
Fact: Melanoma is the second most common cancer in young adults between ages15 and 24 years and the most common cancer between ages 25 to 29.
Types of skin cancer
When it comes to preventing skin cancer, it’s important to understand the different types. Here are the three most common:
- Basal cell carcinoma develops in basal cells within the outermost layer of skin. Triggered by sun exposure over a long period of time, this type of carcinoma accounts for nine out of 10 skin cancers diagnosed. It’s also the easiest to treat and highly curable.
- Watch for: Glossy, white growths or flat, fleshy lesions anywhere on the body.
- Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common type of skin cancer and, like basal cell carcinoma, starts in the outer layer of skin. This cancer is also easily treated, but can spread quickly if undiagnosed.
- Watch for: Red lumps or fleshy, scaly lesions on the face (including lips and ears), neck, hands and arms.
- Malignant melanoma is the most rare and deadly form of skin cancer but can be cured if diagnosed early.
- Watch for: Changes in the color, size, shape or texture of moles or other growths on the surface of skin; large brown spots with dark speckles; and raised lumps anywhere on the body.
What to expect from a professional screening
Even if you already use a daily SPF moisturizer and avoid the sun, it’s essential to schedule an annual skin cancer screening. A professionally trained medical doctor can keep an eye on any unusual changes in your skin and let you know what to look for at home.
- Making an appointment. In many areas, dermatologists are in demand and may be booked several weeks or months in advance. If you can’t get in with a dermatologist, a family doctor is also trained to evaluate skin for cancer.
Also keep in mind that during a skin cancer screening, the doctor may have to examine personal parts of the body. You may wish to schedule an appointment with a doctor of the same sex if this makes you feel uncomfortable.
- At your appointment. The doctor will inspect every inch of your skin using an intense light and a magnifying glass. If anything appears unusual or suspicious, the doctor may take a biopsy — or a small sample — of the spot or remove it entirely if time allows. Otherwise, he or she will ask you to schedule a follow up appointment.
- After your appointment. Your doctor may schedule a follow-up to review the results of any biopsies or to remove other questionable moles. Don’t forget to mark your calendar as a reminder for next year’s appointment. And conduct monthly self-exams at home between appointments.
At home screening
Along with an annual office visit, at home screening or a self-exam is an effective way to monitor skin for any unusual changes. Here’s how to do it:
- Step 1: Create a body map. Before you begin, the Skin Cancer Society recommends creating a body map — or a simple, outlined shape of the front and back of the body.
- Step 2: Inspect your skin. Remove your clothes and label the body map with each freckle, mole, birthmark, sore or other lesions that you see. Be sure to check every inch of your body, using a mirror for areas that are difficult to see. Here’s a checklist:
Remember to investigate every square surface of skin — including beneath the hair and under your nails.
- Step 3: Record what you see . From each mark, draw a line out to the margin of the map. Record the date, followed by a brief description of the mark using the ABCDs of skin cancer detection:
- Asymmetry: Each side of the mole should have similar color, texture and shape.
- Border irregularity: The edges of the mole should be uniform — not uneven or irregular.
- Color discrepancy: Each mole should have uniform, consistent color.
- Diameter: A mole should be less than one-quarter of an inch in diameter. Moles larger than this should be looked at and monitored by a professional.
- Step 4: Repeat monthly. For subsequent exams, use the body map to track changes in your skin. Record the new date next to each marking and note any changes using the ABCDs. In addition, don’t forget to mark any new moles, freckles or lesions that you might’ve missed before.
For help examining those hard to see surfaces, recruit a close friend or family member. Also, consider using a digital camera to track changes in your skin.
Other prevention tips
In addition to being Skin Cancer Awareness month, May also marks the beginning of summer. As an important part of you skin cancer prevention plan, incorporate the following measures in your skin care routine (if you haven’t already!):
- Avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Always avoid the sun during the middle of the day. If you do find yourself outside at this time, apply a sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher. Reapply every two hours.
- Product pick: Whether you’re hitting the ski slopes or going for a stroll in the park, never leave the house without sweat-proof sunscreen like SkinCeuticals Sport UV Defense SPF 45. And remember, even when it’s cloudy or winter, your skin still needs defense from the sun.
- Apply SPF moisturizer daily. Even short daily exposure to the sun adds up over time and increases cancer risks. Make an SPF lotion a routine part of your morning skincare regimen.
- Product pick: Apply a multitasking face lotion like Murad Perfecting Day Cream SPF 30 that boasts both SPF and skin-boosting ingredients to improve and protect your overall complexion.
- Embrace your natural skin tone. Light, healthy complexions are a growing trend. Whether you’re naturally bronze or a fair-skinned beauty, embrace your color with confidence and focus on maintaining the health of your skin.
- Product pick: If you prefer asun-kissed complexion, sidestep skin damage and embrace products that create a subtle, healthy glow. Too Faced The Bronzed And The Beautiful provides a customizable palate of color for every complexion.
Bottom line: Healthy skin
Since one in five will develop skin cancer in his or her lifetime, this disease is likely to affect you or someone you love. But, with the right prevention and a smart skincare routine, you can reduce the risks associated with skin cancer.
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