Monday, June 5, 2017

Most skin cancers are caused by exposure to the sun; here are some tips to protect yourself

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention photo shows protection
By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Tanning is not healthy. Despite the perception that a tanned person looks "healthy," tanned skin is actually damaged skin that has been exposed to ultraviolet rays. And it doesn't really matter if the exposure comes from the sun, or a tanning bed, or happens in the winter or the summer; UV exposure is the number-one cause of skin cancer in the United States, says WebMD.

In fact, skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with the American Academy of Dermatology estimating that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.

“Repeated overexposure to the sun can lead to premature aging and skin cancers called basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and malignant melanoma, which is the deadliest form of skin cancer.” Dr. Tamar Zapolanski, a dermatologist at the Valley Medical Group in New Jersey, said in a news release.

The CDC notes that basal-cell and squamous-cell cancers, which affect the cells on the outer layer of the skin, are the most common kinds of skin cancer and usually respond well to treatment. Melanoma, the cancer that affects cells that give the skin its color, is much less common, but is more dangerous because it is more likely to spread to other parts of the body if not caught early.

In 2016, 3 percent of new cancers in the United states were melanomas, a rate that has been increasing steadily over the years, says the American Cancer Society, WebMD adds that melanoma causes 75 percent of all skin cancer deaths.
Kentucky Cancer Registry maps show occurrences of skin cancer (left) and deaths from melanoma, by county
In 2013, the most recent year with data available, the CDC reports that almost 72,000 Americans were diagnosed with melanoma, and more than 9,000 died from it. Between 2010 and 2014, 41 out of every 100,000 Kentuckian was diagnosed with a melanoma, and 33 Kentuckians out of every million died from it.

Anyone can get skin cancer, regardless of their skin color, but the risk is greatest for people with fair or freckled skin, light eyes and blond or red hair. Other risk factors include having a family history of skin cancer, having an outdoor job and living in a sunny climate. A history of severe sunburns early in life and having a large number of moles are also risks, says the CDC.

"Cumulative sun exposure causes mainly basal-cell and squamous-cell skin exposure, while episodes of severe sunburns, usually before age 18, can raise the risk of developing melanoma," says WebMD.

Not all skin cancers look the same. Experts say the most common warning sign of skin cancer is a change on the skin, like a new mole or skin lesion, or a change in an existing mole.
info-graphic: American Academy of Dermatology

They also recommend a simple rule to assess for melanoma, called the A-B-C-D-E rule:
  • Asymmetry--Does the shape of one half match the other?
  • Border--Are the edges of the mole irregular or jagged?
  • Color--Does the color have uneven shades of brown, black, tan, red, white or blue?
  • Diameter--Is the mole or spot larger than the size of a pea?
  • Evolving--Has the mole or spot changed during the past weeks or months?
The CDC offers some tips to protect yourself from the sun:
  • Stay in the shade, especially during the midday hours.
  • Wear protective clothing on arms and legs.
  • Wear a hat with a wide brim.
  • Wear sunglasses that wrap around and have UVA and UVB protections.
  • Use sunscreen with sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher, and both UVA and UVB protection, even on cloudy days.
  • Reapply sunscreen every two hours and after swimming, sweating or toweling off.
  • Avoid indoor tanning.
“Sunscreen protects against harmful radiation from the sun by absorbing, reflecting or scattering the sun’s rays on the skin,” said Zapolanski, adding that skin cancer is very treatable if caught early.

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