What is Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States and worldwide. It is the out-of-control growth of abnormal cells in the epidermis, the outermost skin layer, caused by unrepaired DNA damage that triggers mutations. These mutations lead the skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors. The main types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), melanoma, and Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC). There are two main causes of skin cancer; the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays and using tanning beds and two types of UV rays. Ultraviolet A (UVA) and Ultraviolet B (UVB). UVA has a longer wavelength and is associated with skin aging. UVB has a shorter wavelength and is associated with skin burning. UV exposure is a powerful attack on the skin, creating damage that can range from premature wrinkles to dangerous skin cancer. UVA rays can penetrate windows and cloud cover to cause tanning, and the shorter wavelengths of UVA also cause sunburn. Exposure to UVA rays causes genetic damage to cells on the innermost part of your top layer of skin, where most skin cancers occur. Tanning is a result of the skin trying to prevent further damage by darkening. Over time, UVA also leads to premature aging and skin cancer.
UV radiation is a proven cause of basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma on sun-exposed areas of your skin. The majority of nonmelanoma skin cancers and a large percentage of melanoma are caused by exposure to UV radiation from the sun. Most of us have had a few sunburns in our life but don’t know that having had 5 or more sunburns doubles your risk for melanoma, which is the deadliest form of skin cancer. Skin cancer is so prevalent that 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70 and more than 2 people will die of skin cancer every hour, that is why it is so important to have regular skin exams and take precautions to minimize damaging sun exposure.
So what can you do? Protect Yourself!
Despite the risk factors, you can safely, happily enjoy the great outdoors by protecting your skin against UV exposure with broad-spectrum sunscreen and sun-safe clothing, hats and eyewear. For even more protection, you can also apply UV window film to your home and car. When you are outside, think of shade as your refuge, especially between 10 AM and 2 PM, when the sun’s rays are the most intense. When outside, walk on the shady side of the street, sit under an awning or sun-protective umbrella or find shade under a tree. Wearing a hat with a brim that is at least 3 inches all the way around is good practice because it helps shade your eyes, ears, face and neck and don’t forget to also wear UV-blocking sunglasses to protect your eyes and the skin around them.
Here are a few other tips to protect your skin from the damaging rays of the sun:
- Apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, even on cloudy days.
- Be mindful that water, snow, and sand, reflect the damaging rays of the sun, which can increase your chance of sunburn.
- Consider using a self-tanning product if you want to look tan but continue to use sunscreen with it.
- Don’t use a tanning bed — ever. Using a tanning bed before age 35 increases your risk of melanoma by 75 percent.
- Perform regular skin self-exams to detect skin cancer early, when it’s most treatable.
Whether you’re exposed to the sun’s UV rays or have visited a tanning salon, the truth is that every time you tan, your skin is damaged. As this damage builds, you speed up the aging of your skin and increase your risk for all types of skin cancer, including melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. At Med First, our Providers can perform a routine skin check, examine a suspicious spot or even perform a biopsy and if needed, refer you to a specialist. You can schedule your exam in our secure patient portal by clicking on the button below or call our appointment center!