Cancer is always scary and, at times, deadly. Of all types of cancer, skin cancer accounts for about 50 percent of confirmed diagnoses.

Skin cancer is divided into two categories: melanoma and non-melanoma. Melanoma is a very dangerous form but accounts for less than two percent (2%) of skin cancer cases. However, it also accounts for a large majority of skin cancer deaths. The good news is skin cancer is highly preventable, and if discovered early, usually quite treatable. 

Causes of Skin Cancer

Over 90 percent of skin cancer is caused by excessive exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Genetics can also be a contributing factor for skin cancer development. The American Cancer Society has estimated that about 73,870 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed during the year 2015, with slightly more than 9,900 cases being fatal. Most cases are discovered in people over 60 years old, but they can be found on people much younger. The key is to get your doctor involved early, so you need to check yourself about once a month. Generally, you can see or feel anything that might be skin cancer.

Identification of Skin Cancer

Be sure to include a self-examination as a part of your plan to be safe, and if you notice any change in an existing mole or discover a new one that looks suspicious, see a physician immediately. Check yourself regularly from your scalp to the bottom of your feet, front and back. You may need some help to do this. Be sure to have your doctor check you over during your annual physical. Symptoms of skin cancer can include the following:

  • Mole or spot that appears shiny, waxy, pale in color, and smooth in texture
  • Red mole or spot, possibly a lump, that is firm
  • Sore or a spot that bleeds or becomes crusty, may seem not to heal
  • Scaly patches (rough or flat) on the skin, may be red or brown
  • Any new growth or one that changes

 Keys to Prevention

Attempt to stay in shaded areas. Avoid going into the most intense sunlight, which is generally between mid-morning and mid-afternoon.

Never allow yourself to be sunburned. The worse the burn, the greater the long-term damage. Burns are also accumulative and add up over your entire life. Five or more burns greatly increase the risk of skin cancer. Avoid tanning, both from the sun and from tanning booths. Understand that healthy skin is not tanned and burnt by the sun.

Clothing is the most effective form of sun protection aside from staying out of the sun. Some clothes have built-in sun block features, so take advantage of these types of outdoor wear. Remember that light-colored cloth or thin cloth can let the UV radiation pass through and can still burn; use long sleeves and long pants or apply sunscreen often and liberally.

About 30-minutes before you go into the sun, apply a water-resistant, broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher for an active outdoor period, and reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating. All newborns should be kept out of the sun, and after babies are at least 6-months old, start using sunscreen and plenty of shade and proper clothing.

Stay aware and stay safe!