Skin Cancer: A Year 'Round Risk
Last updated: Jul 25, 2012, 06:00 AM
By Joy Pierce Mathews for Summit Medical Group
Exposure to the sun is greatest during the warm months when you're outside more often and the sun's rays are the strongest. But you can easily be exposed to damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays at any time of the year. For example, skin-damaging rays can affect you on cloudy fall, winter, and early spring days. During the winter, UV rays also can reflect off the snow and ice, increasing the amount of UV radiation you receive. All year long, cement, water, and sand act as reflective surfaces that can increase your exposure to UV radiation. Even thin clouds on some days can scatter radiation and make UV levels higher than on clear days. For these reasons and because sun damage is cumulative, it's important to protect your skin from the sun throughout the year.
Avoiding Skin Cancer
In addition to limiting your overall exposure to the sun, here are important ways to prevent skin cancer and other unwanted effects of UV radiation such as premature skin aging:
- Avoid the sun between 10 AM and 4 PM when UV rays are strongest
- Stay in the shade when you're outside
- Wear sunscreen with UV/UVB protection and a sun protector factor (SPF) of 30 or more
- Be aware of reflective surfaces that can increase your sun exposure in the shade and any time of year
- Wear tightly woven clothing
- Wear a brimmed hat that shades your head, face, ears, and neck
- Wear sunglasses that wrap around your eyes and almost completely block UVA/UVB rays that can cause cataracts
- Avoiding tanning! There is no safe way to tan
- Avoid tanning beds and sunlamps; if you use a tanning bed, take the same precautions you use outside
- See your dermatologist at least once a year for a thorough skin check; see your dermatologist immediately if you have areas that do not heal between your yearly visit
Skin Cancer Risk
Risk for skin cancer includes having:
- Fair skin and skin that freckles, easily turns red, or tends to be sensitive after very little sun exposure
- Blue or green eyes
- Blond or red hair
- A family history of skin cancer
- Prolonged exposure to the sun at work and play
- Sunburns, especially early in life
It only takes a few sunburns during childhood to increase your risk of skin cancer later in life. Depending on your risk, even 1 severe sunburn can lead to skin cancer.
Excessive, short-term, and intense exposure to UV rays can cause melanoma. Less intense but extended exposure to the sun can cause nonmelanoma skin cancers. For this reason, people with jobs that require them to work outside have a higher risk of nonmelanoma skin cancer compared with people who spend more time indoors.
Skin Cancer Facts
According to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention, cancer of the skin is the most common cancer in the United States. CDC data suggest that in 2008, more than 59,500 people were diagnosed with and 8500 people died from melanoma, the third most common and deadly skin cancer.1
Melanoma can spread and be life threatening if it's not treated. But the good news is that melanoma can be cured, especially when it's detected and treated early. Other skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma are curable or manageable.
Skin Cancer Signs and Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of skin cancer can include areas on the skin that:
- Don't heal after 2 weeks
- Change shape
- Change color
- Ooze fluid or blood
- Crust or clot over, and then ooze or bleed again
Skin Cancer Treatment
Skin cancer treatment depends on the type of cancer. For example, the extent of surgery for a basal cell tumor depends on your age and overall health as well as the type, location, size, and depth of the tumor. Melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and basal cell carcinoma are typically removed through surgery.
Mohs micrographic surgery, a precise technique for removing skin cancer, helps preserve healthy tissue and minimize scarring. Other techniques for treating skin cancer can include cryosurgery, radiation therapy, photodynamic therapy, laser surgery, curettage and electrosurgery, and topical medications.
Benefits of Sunscreen
Because skin cancer results from cumulative exposure to UV rays, you should use sunscreen every day and year 'round on sunny and cloudy days whether you're outside for short or extended periods.
If you have questions or concerns about your skin, your risk for skin cancer,
or if you would like to know more about how to prevent sun-related skin problems,
call Summit Medical Group Dermatology today
If you are concerned about sun damage to your eyes or if your vision has changed recently,
call Summit Medical Group Ophthalmology at 908-277-8682.
US Cancer Statistics Working Group. United States Cancer Statistics: 1999–2008 Incidence and Mortality Web-based Report. Atlanta (GA): Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and National Cancer Institute; 2012. http://www.cdc.gov/uscs. Accessed July 19, 2012.