This past Friday some of my fellow dermatology groupies and I gave a presentation about skin cancer to some high school kids. And I realized that not everyone is as educated as we would like them to be. The truth is skin cancer is preventable!!!! But it can be fatal.
I thought I'd give you some quick facts and hopefully encourage you to take your skin care seriously. A few things that are good to know:
1. There are 3 types of skin cancer: Basal Cell Carcinoma, Squamous Cell Carcinoma and Melanoma.
2. If caught early BCC and SCC are mostly curable by removal.
3. Melanoma is the most aggressive skin cancer and accounts for 74% of skin cancer deaths.
4. About 1 in every 50 Americans has Melanoma and the incidence is rising.
5. Adolescents and young adults are at more risk of developing skin cancer.
6. Fair skin, blue eyes, blonde- and especially red-haired people make pheomelanin (not the darker, sun-protecting eumelanin) which puts them at increased risk of skin cancers.
7. People with a lot of moles are at increased risk of melanoma (dysplastic nevus syndrome).
8. There are 2 kinds of UV-rays. UVA is the aging, non-burning ray that penetrates deeper into the skin, causes more DNA damage, is present year-round and penetrates glass (riding in your car). UVB is the burning ray that most sunscreens protect against (SPF), present more in the summer. Be sure to get a sunscreen that protects against both.
9. Tanning beds are mostly UVA rays (you burn less but age more) and have 15X the potency as radiation from the sun. Spending 20 min in the tanning bed is like 5 hours in the sun.
10. Use at least a 30 SPF (~97% protection) and reapply every 2 hours.
11. Water reflects 100% of sun rays. Sand only reflects 20%. (More likely to get burnt in the pool.)
12. If you have darker skin you are more likely to get melanoma on your palms and soles.
13. You can get cancer in your eyes (Uveal Melanoma). Sunglasses with a UV400 score are 100% protective from sunlight.
That's the bad news.
The good news is skin cancer occurs mostly on sun-exposed skin (it can happen where the sun don't shine too). Which means we can see it and prevent it from progressing if we are diligent.
I've listed the ABC's of Melanoma below. The pictures aren't pretty. In fact, they are kinda gross but I hope they will help you to remember how to check for suspicious moles.
Remember, these are just guidelines. If you have any funny looking moles, freckles, lesions or spots have them checked out by a dermatologist. Statistically most people (myself included unfortunately) wait a year before seeing their doctor for suspicious spots and require more invasive procedures.
Most people should see their dermatologists once a year for skin checks (if you have moles and/or freckles). If you are at increased risk (previous moles removed, fair skinned, etc.) you should see your doctor every 6 months.
So wear your sunscreen, check your skin often and see your doctor if you have any question.