The bad news about skin cancer is that it’s the most common cancer there is, with 3.3 million people diagnosed every year in the United States alone. But the good news about skin cancer is that it’s the most preventable and the simplest to treat, provided you catch it early.
Skin cancer is usually caused by overexposure to the sun’s UV rays, but skin can also be affected when cancer spreads from other parts of the body. And even though skin cancer is more prevalent in light-skinned people, those with darker skin aren’t immune
There are three main types of skin cancer:
- Basal cell: About 80% of all skin cancers are in the lower layer of the skin, or the basal cell layer. They will spread if left untreated; they can also return after they’re removed. People who have already had basal cell carcinoma detected should get checked regularly, because it’s likely new carcinomas will grow. Signs include a bump, sore or growth that won’t heal and keeps oozing, bleeding or crusting over.
- Squamous cell: These cancers form on the outer layers of the skin, typically in areas exposed to the sun such as around the face, neck and hands. They grow into deeper layers and are more likely than basal cell carcinomas to spread around the body and appear as warty growths, scaly red patches or ulcers on the skin.
- Melanomas: These cancers start in the cells that make the skin’s pigments; there are also benign melanomas. Look for asymmetrical moles with irregular borders that change shape and that are larger than a pencil eraser.
The Skin Cancer Foundation has several handy tips for protecting your skin:
- Watch the sun: Stay in the shade between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., don’t get sunburned, and use a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses and protective clothing.
- Make sunscreen part of your everyday ritual: Use an SPF of 15 or higher every day. If you’re going to spend time outdoors in the sun, upgrade to SPF 30 or higher. Keep applying it throughout the day. (Keep infants under 6 months of age out of the sun completely; they’re too young for sunscreen.)
- Don’t use tanning beds.
- Check yourself for suspicious new moles and marks every month; get a professional screening each year. Don’t forget to check on the soles of the feet or under your nails.
And if you’re lamenting that you’ll miss an allover bronze, self-tanning products have come a long way since the days when they just made everyone look orange. Experiment and enjoy!