Because May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, our concierge family doctors in Jupiter want to share some facts with you about this often deadly, yet preventable, disease.
- Cancer of the skin is the most common form of cancer in the United States.
- Nearly five million people are treated for skin cancer every year in the United States.
- It is estimated that 40 to 50 percent of fair-skinned people who reach age 65 will develop at least one skin cancer, but those with darker skin are also susceptible.
- The most preventable cause of skin cancer is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, either from the sun or from artificial sources like tanning beds.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that in 2013, the most recent year for which statistics are available, 71,943 people in the United States were diagnosed with melanomas of the skin, and 9,394 people died from the disease.
The two most common types of skin cancer—basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas—are highly curable, but can be disfiguring and costly to treat, according to the CDC. Melanoma, the third most common skin cancer, is more dangerous and causes the most deaths.
The Skin Cancer Foundation estimates that the number of new melanoma cases diagnosed in 2019 will increase by 7.7 percent, adding that, on average, a person’s risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had more than five sunburns throughout their life.
While it’s important to remember that not every irregularly shaped mole or skin spot will turn out to be cancer, any new growth on the skin should be investigated. So should a sore that doesn’t heal, or a smooth, shiny, or pearly looking bump.
In addition, an easy way to remember what other characteristics to look for is the alphabet guide provided by the CDC.
A = “asymmetrical.” Does the mole or spot have an irregular shape with two parts that look very different from each other?
B = “border.” Is the border of the mole or spot irregular or jagged?
C = “color.” Is the color uneven?
D = “diameter.” Is the mole or spot larger than the size of a pea?
E = “evolving.” Has the mole or spot changed during the past few weeks or months?
Remember, while skin cancer is generally found on areas of the body most often exposed to sunlight, including the scalp, it can also occur on such non-exposed areas as the palms of your hands, beneath fingernails and toenails, and even in the genital area.
Although skin cancer treatment is highly treatable if caught in the early stages, the best approach is to prevent it in the first place.
The CDC recommends the following measures to protect yourself:
- Avoid the sun during peak-burn hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Always use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher, even if you’re indoors and sitting near windows. Recent studies show that UV light penetrates glass far more than previously thought.
- When outdoors, always wear a hat with a wide brim of at least four inches, as well as clothing made of sun-protective fabric (UV rays can penetrate ordinary thin cloth, the gauzy type we tend to wear in summer months).
- Be careful of reflected light which can even “bounce” beneath a sun umbrella. Anything white, including sand and concrete, will magnify the UV rays, and light reflecting off water is notorious for causing unanticipated sunburns.
- Avoid tanning beds.
If you have any questions about how to prevent skin cancer, or if you are concerned about moles or spots on your skin, please let us know.