According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, the rate of melanoma-related deaths in men is more than twice the rate among women. Of those deaths, 60 percent were white men over the age of 50.
About Skin Cancer
There are four types of skin cancer, Basal cell carcinoma, Squamous cell carcinoma, Merkel cell carcinoma, and melanoma, which is the most dangerous type. Cancer is an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells, and in skin cancer these appear as lesions, nodules, lumps or mole-like tumors. With melanoma, these moles can even appear in places that are not typically exposed to the sun.
How to Protect Against Skin Cancer
One of the most effective ways to prevent skin cancer is to protect your skin from the damage caused by UV rays. Wear long pants and sleeves when you can, along with a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses. It may surprise you to learn you can absolutely sunburn your eyeballs – and it hurts! Make sure to apply sunscreen with an SPF 30 or higher before spending time outdoors, and re-apply it every two hours or after sweating heavily, swimming, or playing in water. Sunscreen does expire and becomes less effective after expiration, so make sure you’re not using a bottle that’s been gathering dust for several years. You should also avoid tanning beds, or tanning outdoors – your skin might become paler, but it will stay healthier.
Like many types of cancer, it’s important to catch skin cancer early – this gives the patient their best chance of recovery. You should perform a skin check annually, with the help of your partner or spouse if needed. If you are at high risk, you should see a dermatologist for a professional skin check once a year. Keep an eye on any bumps, lesions, or moles, especially ones that have appeared suddenly, seem to be growing quickly, discolored or oddly shaped.
What are the Risk Factors?
- Unprotected exposure to UVA and UVB rays can increase your risk of skin cancer – this includes both from the sun and from tanning beds or sun lamps.
- Skin type is a major factor – although all skin types are at risk, those with fair skin are at higher risk.
- Sunburns are another common risk factor. Sunburn causes damage to the skin, and when you experience repeated sunburns, that skin damage builds up over time. In fact, five or more sunburns in your lifetime increases your risk by more than double!
- Atypical moles, which are unusual-looking moles increase your risk for melanoma specifically, although the moles themselves are not cancerous. Use the ABCDE system to identify the warning signs for atypical moles and melanoma:
- Asymmetry – if you draw a line through the middle of the mole or lesion and the two halves don’t match, this may be a sign of melanoma.
- Border – The border of these moles may have scalloped or notched edges or appear uneven. Common moles tend to have smoother borders.
- Color – benign moles are usually a consistent shade of brown. If you see moles or lesions that have different shades of brown, tan or black, this is a warning sign. These lesions may also turn red, white, or bluish as they grow.
- Diameter/Dark – It’s best to identify a melanoma when they’re small, but if notice a lesion at or larger than the size of a pencil eraser (about 6 mm or ¼ inch in diameter), report this to your doctor. You can also look for lesions that appear darker than others.
- Evolving – If your mole or lesion is changing shape, size, color, or elevation, this is a warning sign, as are any new symptoms which pop up on or around the lesion, such as bleeding, itching or crusting.
- Other risk factors include genetic history of skin cancer and red hair.
The bottom line? When in doubt, get it checked out. Cancers are easier to treat and patients are more likely to recover when these diseases are caught early. If you’re concerned about your skin, it’s better to get that checked, and find out it’s nothing than delay and miss valuable treatment time. Protect your skin as often as possible, and know your risk factors.