Cancer of the skin is the most commonly occuring malignancy in the United States, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). About 9,500 Americans receive a skin cancer diagnosis every day, and researchers have estimated that one in five persons will develop some form of skin cancer during their lifetime.
The month of May recognizes three skin cancer-related events: Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month, Ultraviolet Awareness Month, and Don’t Fry Day. Today, our goal is to bring awareness to these causes and help you protect yourself from the life-threatening effects of skin cancer. In this writing, the cancer care team here at New Hope Unlimited will be providing relevant information about the three most common types of skin cancer, and the preventive measures you can take to reduce your risk.
Most Common Types of Skin Cancer in the United States
The AAD, Skin Cancer Foundation, American Cancer Society, and other leading organizations noted the following as the most common skin cancers:
1. Basal Cell Carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common form of skin cancer. In the United States alone, it affects the lives of over 4 million citizens each year.
BCC begins in the basal cells found at the bottom of the outer skin layer (epidermis). In most cases, these cancers arise on exposed parts of the human body, including the face, scalp, ears, neck, shoulders, and back. It often appears as a small, shiny nodule on the surface of the skin.
Excessive exposure to sunshine or sunlight is the leading cause of most basal cell carcinomas. Men, women, and children (although rare) who have a higher risk for developing this skin cancer typically have fair skin, blue or green, eyes, and blond or red hair.
If you are someone who fits the above criteria and spends long hours basking in the sun, you are particularly susceptible. And, despite the fact that this malignant disorder is more prevalent among middle-aged or older individuals, oncologists have detected aggressive-growth basal cell carcinoma in young adults as well.
In addition, it is important to understand that, although skin cancer is less prevalent in nonwhite racial ethnic groups, no race has immunity from this disease. Here’s what people of color should know about skin cancer.
2. Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most frequently-occurring skin cancer. The tumors of this malignancy begin in the outer layer of the skin (the epithelium).
In the United States, doctors report around 700,000 cases of squamous cell carcinoma each year. The majority of patients are middle-aged or older with fair complexions, and most of them have a history of chronic sun exposure. This cancer often manifests itself as a bump, or as a red and scaly patch on the face, ear, or mouth area.
Squamous cell carcinomas originate from sandpaper-like growths known as actinic keratoses. Although all skin cancers are serious, squamous cell carcinomas can cause more catastrophic effects since, unlike basal cell carcinoma, it has a higher tendency to grow into deeper layers of skin and metastasize (spread) to other areas of the body.
3. Malignant Melanoma
Melanoma begins in melanocytes, which are skin cells that produce the dark, protective pigment called melanin (makes the skin look more tanned). Malignant melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer. In 2020, melanoma skin cancer may affect about 100,350 lives, and 6,850 people of those people may succumb to the disease. On a positive note, however, melanoma skin cancer is almost always curable when diagnosed in its earliest stages.
Melanoma can appear without any warning signs, but in other cases, it can occur in or near a mole. Scientists presume that chronic sun exposure resulting in sunburns is the most important cause of melanoma. And, although ultraviolet (UV) radiation used in indoor tanning can lead to other forms of skin cancer, evidence suggests that there is no association between artificial light and melanoma. Genetics also play a significant role, since someone with a family history of skin cancer has an increased risk of developing melanoma.
Who Is at Most Risk for Skin Cancer?
As mentioned, having the following characteristics raises your risk of skin cancer:
- Spending plenty of time outdoors
- Having light-colored skin, eyes, and hair
- Having a blood relative with a history of skin cancer
- Having a lot of moles, or finding new growths on the skin
- Experiencing too many sunburns
In addition, be extra cautious if you:
- Have battled skin cancer in the past
- Have sensitive skin that burns easily
- Live in or travel frequently to tropical climates or high altitudes
- Have a condition that weakens your immune system
Are There Ways to Prevent Skin Cancer?
UV radiation from the sun is not only a health hazard, but it is also a cunning cause of premature skin aging. Sunlight can reach you even when you are hiding behind the biggest beach umbrella. It can penetrate through clouds and windows, as well as bounce off of sand, water, and snow. What’s more, sun damage accumulates over the years, which means you can damage your skin just by doing your everyday activities, including driving to your office, walking your dog, and even bringing in the mail.
To protect your skin from the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation, the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends the following:
- Seek shade, particularly between 10 AM and 4 PM.
- Do not let yourself get sunburned.
- Avoid tanning and do not use UV tanning beds.
- Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. If you will be spending extended hours outdoors, ensure to use a water-resistant and broad- spectrum sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30.
- Reapply sunscreen every two hours, or after swimming or excessive sweating.
- Protect your face and eyes with a wide-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
- Examine your skin from head-to-toe every month.
- Get a professional skin exam from a dermatologist once a year.
The incidence rates of basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma are on a steady rise. The good news, however, is that you can protect yourself and your loved ones from these serious diseases.
What If I Already Have Skin Cancer?
Did you receive a skin cancer diagnosis? Choosing New Hope Unlimited as your ally against the battle with cancer is a decision that your physical health and psychological wellness will thank you for. The ultimate goal of our cancer care team is to personalize your alternative skin cancer treatment to achieve the best outcome and fewest side effects possible. You have options, and we want you to know about them. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.