by Kimberly Allen R.N
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer diagnosed today with over 1 million new cases diagnosed every year. The number of new cases of skin cancer has been increasing every year causing greater public concern and awareness. The most common cause of skin cancer is excessive, unprotected exposure to the sun, though there are other factors that can contribute to skin cancer like the environment.
There are several different types of skin cancer but the most common are basal cell cancer (BCC), squamous cell cancer (SCC), and malignant melanoma. The most common of the 3 is BCC. BCC’s are usually found on the head, face, neck or shoulders. They appear as small raised bumps that are smooth and shinny. Frequently bleeding and scabbing will occur causing it to be mistaken for a sore that never completely heal. BCC’s do not spread and are the least fatal of the three.
The second most common of the three are the SCC’s. It is also more dangerous than BCC and if left untreated can develop into a large mass. SCC will appear as a red, scaling patch of skin that will also appear thickened. Some areas can be hard dome shaped nodules.
The least common, but much more deadly type of skin cancer, is malignant melanoma. Melanoma lesions are usually brown to black in color, however there are more aggressive melanomas that appear as pink or red in color. There are several early warning signs to watch for. These would include and changes in color, size, or shape of an existing mole or a new mole developing in adulthood, especially if there is bleeding.
As is the case with most diseases, prevention is the best defense. It’s important to understand that protective measures need to be taken year round not only in the summer months. Also the UV rays from the sun are just as dangerous on cloudy days as on bright sunny ones and to some extent are actually more dangerous. When it’s cloudy the sun’s UV rays do not feel as hot so many people don’t think to take precautions and they spend more time exposed to the sun’s UV rays. Avoiding exposure to the sun during the middle of the day whether clear or cloudy, summer or winter. Wear protective clothing that is dark and has tightly woven material over all exposed areas including arms and legs. Wearing a wide brimmed hat instead of a visor or ball cap will offer greater protection of the face, neck and ears. Don’t forget your eyes either, it’s important to protect them also by using sunglasses. When choosing sunglasses you want ones that block both UVA and UVB rays.
There are also many different medications both over-the-counter and prescription that cause increased sensitivity to the sun. These include antibiotics and medications for HTN and diabetes as well as NSAID’s like ibuprofen. Ask your pharmacist or doctor about the side effects and if the medication will increase your sensitivity to the sun.
Many people choose to believe that tanning beds are safe but the truth is they emit UV rays that can increase the risk of skin cancer.
Sunscreens continue to be the preventive measure of choice, however there is also controversy. Sunscreens do not protect against all UV rays. They protect against the UVB rays that cause sunburn, and BCC’s as well as SCC’s, however they do not protect against the UVA rays that cause melanoma. There are many that believe sunscreens to be indirectly responsible for increased incidences of melanoma. They state that because sunscreen protects against sunburn it limits the discomfort associated with sun burn and over exposure to the sun therefore allowing further exposure to the sun’s UVA rays that cause melanoma. There are sunscreens that have zinc oxide or titanium dioxide bases that are more effective against UVA rays.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.