What You Need to Know about Skin Cancer: Cases of melanoma are increasing rapidly. Here’s how to reduce your risk.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), skin cancer accounts for one in every three cancer diagnoses. In 2020, there were more than 1.5 million new skin cancer diagnoses around the world.
Skin cancer is becoming increasingly prevalent, partly due to decreased levels of ozone levels. The WHO estimates that each 10% reduction in ozone levels results in more than 300,000 cases of skin cancer worldwide. Here’s what you need to know about skin cancer and how you can reduce your risk.
Who is Most at Risk for Skin Cancer?
Caucasian people have the highest risk for skin cancer, especially people who have fair skin, blue eyes, or light-colored hair. A history of sunburns and family history also contribute to skin cancer risk. Excessive exposure to ultraviolet rays of the sun and tanning beds puts people of all skin types at risk.
What is the Difference Between Non-melanoma and Melanoma Skin Cancers?
Non-melanoma skin cancers begin in the outer layer of the skin. The most common types of non-melanoma cancers are basal cell carcinoma (the most common form of skin cancer) and squamous cell carcinoma (the second most common form of skin cancer).
Melanoma occurs much less frequently. It starts in melanocytes, the skin cells that produce the pigment that creates skin color and results in tanning. Typically, melanomas occur in brown or black spots on the trunk of the body or on the legs. In Caucasian people, it’s also likely to appear on the face or neck. In non-Caucasians, it’s more likely to occur on the palms, under the feet, or beneath nails.
Why is Melanoma a Dangerous Form of Skin Cancer?
Melanoma is much more likely to spread to other parts of the body, compared to basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma. Most commonly, advanced melanoma spreads to the lymph nodes, lung, liver, bones, brain, and abdomen.
Even as rates for other common cancers have decreased, rates for melanoma have tripled over the past thirty years, according to the Melanoma Research Alliance.
How Can Skin Cancer Be Treated?
When all types of skin cancers are detected early—even melanomas—the chances of curative treatment are highest. A broad range of treatments are available, depending on the type, stage, and location of the tumor. These include topical medications, laser surgery, excisional surgery, and radiation therapy. For melanomas, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy may also be considered.
How Can I Reduce My Risk for Skin Cancer?
To reduce your risk for skin cancer, do the following:
• Protect your skin from harmful UV rays. This means staying in the shade, wearing sunblock of SPF 15 or greater, and wearing protective hats and clothing.
• Don’t use tanning beds. Tanning beds are even more dangerous than sun exposure. The International Agency for Research on Cancer found that using a tanning bed before the age of 35 is associated with a 75% increase in the risk for melanoma.
• Check your skin. Examine your skin for possible melanoma. Let “ABCDE” guide your skin check: asymmetry (one side doesn’t look like the other), border (poorly defined border), color (varied), diameter (usually bigger than the size of a pencil eraser), and evolving (changes in time). If you have any suspicious spots, contact a dermatologist for an exam.
• Know your risk. If you’ve had five or more sunburns, you’ve doubled your risk for developing melanoma. If you have someone in your immediate family who’s had melanoma, you face a higher risk as well; 10% of melanoma patients have a family member who’s had melanoma, too. If you’ve had any other kind of skin cancer, whether melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, or squamous cell carcinoma, you also face a higher risk. If you have an increased risk, be extra vigilant in prevention. That means you check moles on your body frequently, visit a dermatologist for regular skin exams, and protect your skin against the sun.