May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month—do you have all the facts?

There are four types of skin cancer, all of which are most commonly caused by exposure to UV rays, either from sunlight or from the use of indoor tanning beds:

Actinic Keratosis (AK) is a type of skin cancer whose main symptoms are painful, rough, or itchy patches or growths on the skin, as well as chronically dry lips.  This type of skin cancer can disappear and re-appear over time, and is most common in people who have fair skin and light-colored hair and eyes.  It occurs most often in individuals who are 40 or over, as it is caused by many years of exposure to sunlight or artificial tanning lights.

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common skin cancer, and usually takes the form of rounded growths with noticeable blood vessels on parts of the body that receive the most sun exposure, such as the arms, head, and neck.  As with AK, people who are at the greatest risk of developing this type of skin cancer are those with light hair and eyes, as well as people who have spent a great deal of time outdoors or in tanning salons.

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the next most common form of skin cancer after BCC, and shows up as rough bumps, scaly patches, or sores on the skin; these bumps and patches can sometimes develop a crusty surface or bleed.  SCC appears frequently on the face, lips, arms, legs, or hands.  As with other types of skin cancer, fair-skinned and light-haired people are often at the greatest risk; smoking tobacco, spending a lot of time near heat sources, and exposure to certain carcinogens, such as arsenic, tar, and some herbicides or insecticides, can also increase one’s chances of developing SCC.

Melanoma is the most serious and deadly form of skin cancer and appears in the form of new dark spots (moles) on the skin, or changes to existing moles.  It can also take the form of dark streaks under fingernails or toenails, or bands of dark skin around fingernails or toenails.  Dermatologists have popularized the ABCDE method as an easy way for people to remember, and check for, potential symptoms of this type of skin cancer: look out for spots that are Asymmetric, have an irregular or poorly defined Border, vary in Color from one part to another, have a Diameter of 6 millimeters or more, or that Evolve over time in shape, size, or color.

Like other types of skin cancer, melanoma appears most frequently in light-skinned people.  Use of indoor tanning beds, and having had multiple blistering sunburns, also greatly increases the risk.  Melanoma also has a genetic and hereditary factor, as well.  

Skin cancer’s reach

Skin cancer is the most widespread cancer in the United States; it’s estimated that 20% of Americans will develop skin cancer over the course of their lives.  In 2012, over 3 million Americans were diagnosed with skin cancers other than melanoma; meanwhile, researchers predict that over 160,000 individuals in America will be diagnosed with new cases of melanoma this year alone (skin cancers can also recur in the same individual more than once).

Although people who have fair skin, light hair and eyes (blond or red hair and blue, gray, or hazel eyes), and who burn rather than tan in the sun are frequently at the greatest risk for developing skin cancer, skin cancer affects people with a variety of physical characteristics, including those with darker skin, hair, and eyes.  Regardless of personal risk factors, it’s vital for everyone to take steps to protect themselves.

Top skin cancer prevention tips:

  • Learn to spot the signs of skin cancer, and see a dermatologist once a year for a skin cancer screening. In many cases, early detection is key to successful treatment and survival.
  • When outdoors, prevent skin cancer by avoiding the sun. Stick to the shady areas and wear clothing that provides good body coverage, as well as a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses to keep the sun off your face (covering up is important, even on overcast days, as UV rays can be present).
  • Don’t use indoor tanning beds—along with sun exposure, indoor tanning represents one of the greatest avoidable skin cancer risks.
  • Make UV protection a part of your daily skincare and beauty routine. Be sure to use sunscreen products with an SPF of 30 or above, and that are broad spectrum (protect from both UVA and UVB rays).  Try Cane + Austin’s Prime & Protect Mattifying Primer (broad spectrum, SPF 50) for gentle hydration and a smooth matte finish, or Cane + Austin’s SPF 50 Facial Sunscreen (also broad spectrum) for oil-free, weightless sun protection.

Protect yourself and spread the word on skin cancer, this May and all year long!