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While skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, many cases are easily preventable by limiting exposure to the sun’s harmful rays and avoiding indoor tanning. Two of the most common types of skin cancer – basal cell (BCC) and squamous cell carcinomas (SCC) – are highly curable if caught early. Texas is ranked fourth in the nation for newly diagnosed cases of melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer.
- More than 2 million cases of skin cancer are expected to be diagnosed in 2012.
- Between 40 and 50 percent of Americans 65 or older will have non-melanoma skin cancer in their lifetime.
- In 2012, an estimated 4,685 cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in Texas, with approximately 579 deaths
- Those who use indoor tanning beds are 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma, 2.5 times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma, and 1.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma.
- Ultraviolet (UV) Light Exposure: Sunlight is the main source of UV radiation, which can damage the genes in skin cells and cause skin cancer.
- Indoor Tanning: Sun lamps and tanning beds emit UV radiation, which can cause skin damage, and in recent studies have been linked to melanoma.
- Family History: Those with a family history of skin cancer may face an increased risk for the disease.
- Fair Skin: People with fair skin are at a higher risk of developing skin cancer, especially fair-skinned individuals with freckles and/or blue eyes and red hair. However, everyone is at risk of developing skin cancer and should take precautions. In fact, though melanoma is less frequently diagnosed among African Americans, Latinos, and Asians than Caucasians, it is more frequently fatal for these populations. Those with fair skin and family histories of skin cancer should seek routine, annual skin cancer screenings with a dermatologist.
Symptoms and Signs
The most common warning sign of skin cancer is a change in the surface of the skin. It is important to have any mole that has changed checked by a dermatologist. The ABCD rule can help guide you when checking your skin.
- A = Asymmetry: One side of the mole is different from the other in size, shape, color, or thickness.
- B = Border: The edge or border of the mole is not smooth.
- C = Color: The color of the mole contains various shades of tan, brown, or black.
- D = Diameter: Skin cancer melanomas are usually larger than 6 millimeters in diameter, but they can be smaller.
Tips for Prevention
- Limit Exposure: Practice sun safety when you are outdoors. Avoid being outdoors in sunlight too long, particularly between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when UV light is strongest.
- Protect Your Skin: Long-sleeved shirts, long pants, or long skirts are the most protective. Use sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher on areas of skin exposed to the sun, especially when the sunlight is strong. Reapply every two hours or according to the product label. Use sunscreen even on hazy days or days with light or broken cloud cover because UV light still permeates.
- Wear a Hat: A hat with a 2- to 3-inch brim can protect areas exposed to the sun’s rays, such as the neck, ears, eyes, forehead, nose, and scalp. Straw hats may allow UV rays through, so refrain from wearing these unless the weave is tight.
- Wear Sunglasses: Wrap-around sunglasses with at least 99 percent UV absorption provide the best protection for the eyes and the skin around the eyes. Look for sunglasses labeled as blocking UVA and UVB light.
Basal cell and squamous cell cancers can often be completely cured by fairly minor surgery. Some can be cured by using medicine on the skin. The type of treatment depends on its size, location, and type of skin cancer. For certain squamous cell cancers with a high risk of spreading, surgery might be followed by radiation or chemotherapy. After a decade with no new skin cancer drugs, in 2011 the FDA approved ipilimumab, used to treat inoperable melanoma that has spread to other areas of the body, as well as vemurafenib, which treats later-stage melanoma.
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Sources: American Cancer Society, Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Cancer Institute, and The Skin Cancer Foundation