Skin cancers are the most frequently diagnosed group of cancers in the U.S., with nearly 2 million patients diagnosed annually. In fact, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer at some point in their lives.
For most people, skin pigmentation and UV radiation are the two biggest risk factors for skin cancer—the lighter the complexion, the more sensitive the person will be to UV rays. Researchers believe that skin cancers develop because UV radiation—in the form of sunlight or artificial tanning beds—causes mutations in skin cells that turn cancerous over time.
Fortunately, most skin cancers (including basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas) are easily treated with local therapies such as cryotherapy or MOHS surgery. However, melanomas can be deadly, and are responsible for 75 percent of all skin cancer deaths. If a melanoma invades more than a quarter of an inch into the skin, there is a good chance it has spread to other parts of the body. Once this happens, it becomes almost impossible to cure.
Prevention is the key to minimizing skin cancer incidence, says the University of Kentucky’s Dr. John D’Orazio, a pediatric hematologist/oncologist who specializes in skin cancer research.
“I can’t stress enough the importance of wearing sunscreen and avoiding tanning beds or unnecessary exposure to UV rays, especially for children,” D’Orazio says. “Blistering sunburns during childhood are linked to melanomas later in life, and having just five sunburns in your lifetime doubles your risk for developing a skin cancer.”
Early detection of skin cancer is important, and remember that the vast majority of these cancers are easily treated. Check your skin personally once a month and professionally by a doctor or care provider every six to 12 months. Look for sores that do not heal, as they might indicate a cancerous or precancerous lesion, and follow the “ABCs” of moles:
Asymmetry Uneven shape
Border Irregular, jagged, or poorly defined margins
Color More than one color
Diameter Larger than a pencil eraser
Elevation Mole raised from surrounding skin