"Everything in excess is opposed to nature."
— translated from Hippocrates (460 BC – 370 BC)
— Physician in Ancient Greece and "Father of Medicine."
Skin cancer is one of the most prevalent forms of cancer in the United States.
In 2000, one out of seven adults said that they had ever undergone a head to toe skin exam by a dermatologist or other physician. Sadly, this figure rose only to one out of six by 2005.
Malignant melanoma is one of the most dangerous and insidious types of skin cancers. The more common types are basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma. All of these cancers are caused by exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun, solar lamps or from tanning beds.
The American Academy of Dermatology has said "Chronic exposure to UV light changes the skin's texture, causing wrinkling and age spots. Tanning to improve ones appearance is ultimately self-defeating." Fortunately and unfortunately, sunlight is all around us here in Arizona, so how do we prevent skin cancer?
Skin cancers can occur anywhere on our body, but is most common in sun-exposed areas such as the face, neck scalp, lips, ears, arms, legs and hands. Some odd locations that skin cancer has been found include underneath nails, in between toes, around the genitals, and even in the mouth.
Although anyone can get skin cancer, there are some characteristics that put certain people at higher risk. A fair or lighter natural skin color; naturally blond or red hair; blue or green eyes; skin that burns, freckles, or reddens easily in the sun; extended exposure to the sun through work or recreation; a personal or family history of skin cancer; and a history of sunburns early in life. Some of these things like our genetics and what happened to us when we were children are out of our control, but there are things we can do from now on to protect our family and ourselves.
Avoid being outside during the hottest times (10 a.m.-4 p.m.), but if you must, at least seek the shade if possible. Cover up with clothing to prevent sun exposure, wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect head, face, ears and neck. Use sunglasses that wrap around and block as close to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB rays. Always use sunscreen with a minimum sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher, and that blocks both the UVA and UVB rays of the sun. Do not forget to use a lip balm that also contains sunscreen, as our lips are almost always exposed to the sun. It is also important to remember that the sun's UV rays can reach you even on cloudy days and can also reflect off surfaces like the cement, sand water or snow. So always use sunscreen no matter what the weather.
While there are several things we can do to protect ourselves, being vigilant is one. It is very easy and important to recognize some of the most common signs of a suspicious mole or skin lesion, in fact, it is as easy as knowing you're ABCs — A- Asymmetry in shape, B-Border irregularity of the lesion, C- Color variation, red, white or blue colors within a brown or black mole or any color change for that matter, D-Diameter, having a size larger than the eraser on a pencil (6mm) or if you have noticed that the skin lesion has grown, E- Evolution, a mole that has changed, grown, bleeds, crusts or will not heal may be a cause for concern.
If you notice any of the above changes in a mole or skin lesion, make sure to get checked out by your doctor to determine what needs to be done.
This article was written for general information purposes and is not meant to substitute the personalized care of your doctor.
For more information, please visit the following websites:
American Academy of Dermatology – www.aad.org
National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention – www.skincancerprevention.org
American Cancer Society – www.cancer.org
National Cancer Institute – www.cancer.gov
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – www.cdc.gov