May: Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month
By Emily Woodall
Scott Loveland Insurance
If you are like me, you had no idea that the month May was Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention month. Unless you have been personally affected by skin cancer through a friend and/or family member you probably do not think much about it when gearing up for a trip outdoors. With a many stay-at- home orders being lifted and the summer months approaching, we will most likely be finding ourselves outside more and more. Making this a perfect time to learn a little about skin cancer, detection, and prevention to keep you and your loved ones protected.
The Skin Cancer Foundation was founded in 1979 and ever since they have been projecting ways to keep your skin safe and prevent cancerous cells from forming. What a lot of people fail to realize, myself included, is that skin cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in the United States.
With an average of about 5 million cases yearly, it is important to take precautions when going outside to ensure that you are not of that population. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation: “About 90 percent of nonmelanoma cases and 85 percent of melanoma cases are associated with exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun”. Even if you are not prone to contracting skin cancer, the sun can be a dangerous thing, it is always important to keep your skin safe.
There are several different types of skin cancer, six to be exact, some of those also having sub-types. The most common type of skin cancer is the basal cell carcinoma and it is more likely to develop in areas of skin that receive the most sun exposure. A recurrent basal cell occurs in those formerly diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma are at higher risk of this type developing. The best way to prevent the recurrent type is to protect the areas where the original cancer cell was.
Squamous cell carcinoma are cells that also develop in highly exposed areas (ears, neck, etc.). This skin cancer tends to go slowly, this is where self-examination could be beneficial. Squamous cells are also known for spreading. Melanoma is what most people think of skin cancer to be. This is where moles and dark spots get darker with sun exposure. Merkel cell carcinoma is rarer, but it also tends to be more aggressive. Those with compromised immune systems tend to be more at risk for it has often spread internally to other areas of the body.
There may be no prior skin cancer history in your family (that you are aware of) but that does not mean you are not at-risk. Factors such as: Age, gender, body, genetics, and lifestyle can all play key roles in how susceptible you are to developing skin cancer.
Lets look at the general risks for skin cancer- found on Cancer Treatment Centers of America’s website. Age is a factor that tends to increase your chances for melanoma. When you are a younger person, like me, its so easy to just go out get a little burned and not think a thing of it. The issue with that is that over time, the damage from that one burn will accumulate. The site mentions immunity and the issue of having a compromised immune system. It states: “Conditions that weaken the immune system, such as viruses’ diseases or immune suppression therapy associated with organ transplantation, may increase skin cancer risks” (cancercenter.com). And as for gender, sorry men, but you are three times more likely to develop certain types of skin cancer. Even though you may not be checking off any of these three factors, that does not mean you are any less at risk.
A couple of the more obvious threats are due to your own body and genetics. Really pay attention to your skin and listen to it. If you are a Caucasian, you are more at risk. That risk is also doubled if you have fare skin (blonde and red hair, light blue eyes, etc.). You may be thinking ‘I am fine, I have always tanned well, and I don’t have fare skin’ that’s a common misconception some people can make, especially those who have more freckles and/or moles than most. Most moles are harmless, however, the more someone has, the higher chance that one of them will develop into something cancerous. Long story short, if you have excess moles or fare skin, be responsible and get them examined annually. If you are aware of anybody in your family having skin cancer, you should take precautions against sun damage. Genetics can tell you a lot about your body, and you are at an increased risk of being diagnosed.
As for all aspects of health, your lifestyle can greatly affect it. Cancercenter.com claims smoking can increase your chances of developing skin cancer. In the case of smoking, skin cancer is usually of the mouth or lips. This is important to note that not all skin cancer is caused by damage from the sun. If your lifestyle includes certain chemical exposure such as: tar, coal, and certain types of oil wearing proper protective gear is essential to reduce your risk for skin cancer. The same goes for having an occupation where you are in the sun more than the average person. Being responsible is the best way to preserve your skin and save your health.
If you are exposed to any of these conditions, whether they are preexisting or not, you can do regular self-examinations for skin cancer. The American Academy of Dermatology published steps to preform a skin exam on yourself, where to look and what to look for. Examining your body in a full-length mirror is the best way to check yourself at home. The mirror is great for areas you cannot easily see, but for those areas you can see well (underarms, forearms, palms, toes, soles of your feet, legs) regularly. The most missed areas are the back of the neck and scalp as well as the lower back area. To correctly check these places, the AAD recommends using a hand mirror. If you happen to find something during self-examination that is discolored, has noticeable changed, or itches keep an eye on it and call a dermatologist.
Checking your body takes very little time, doing this at least once a week can increase your chances of early detection. It is important to note that the earlier the detection of any skin cancer, the more treatable it is.
Two weeks from today is the start of Memorial Day Weekend. A weekend that is notorious for pools opening for the season, the first lake trip of the summer, and more. If the sun is shining, take you skin into serious consideration. Cover up, apply a generous amount of sunscreen, and enjoy your time outside. I hope that whoever reads this article will think about their delicate skin before stepping outside this summer.