The feel of the sun on a warm spring day can be comforting. While the sun is beneficial in many ways, from helping regulate people’s moods to acting as a source of vitamin D, there are some risks when it comes to spending a lot of time in the sun. The UV rays produced by it are the leading external cause of skin aging. Those UV rays are also a cause of skin cancer.
While you might not think about skin cancer on a regular basis, it’s common enough that it should be something you are aware of. Fortunately, it’s a problem that can be treated and dealt with, if detected early enough. Learning what you can about it can help you in several ways. You’ll know what to do to detect it early and what to do if you see anything on your skin that looks slightly off.
Melanoma isn’t the Only Kind
Melanoma might be the most dangerou and fatal type of skin cancer. But, it’s not the only kind, nor is it the type that occurs most frequently. The most common type of skin cancer in the US is basal cell carcinoma, with around 2 million cases diagnosed annually. Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common type of cancer, with around 700,000 cases diagnosed yearly. In contrast, the American Cancer Society estimates that there will be around 73,000 cases of melanoma in 2015. There are a few other types of skin cancer that are much more rare, such as Kaposi sarcoma and Merkel cell carcinoma, as well.
Typically, skin cancer is named for the type of skin cells it affects. The squamous cells are those on the top layer of the epidermis, for example, while the basal cells are the lowest layer of epidermis. Melanoma affects the melanocytes, the cells responsible for producing pigment.
It’s the Most Common Type of Cancer
Skin cancer is the most commonly occurring type of cancer in the US. Every year, around 4 to 5 million people are diagnosed with some type of skin cancer. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, around 20 percent of people will be diagnosed with some form of skin cancer at some point in their lifetime.
The most fatal form of skin cancer, melanoma, causes around 10,000 deaths every year. Male patients with melanoma are more likely to die than female patients, even though a lower percentage of male patients is diagnosed with the cancer.
Indoor Tanning is as Bad as Sun Exposure
In some circles, lying out in the sun and sunbathing is considered risky, while tanning in a tanning bed is considered safe. In fact, indoor tanning is just as dangerous as real sun exposure when it comes to skin cancer risk, if not more so. Using a tanning bed exposes you to considerably more ultraviolet radiation than lying in the sun. More than 400,000 skin cancer cases are connected to the use of indoor tanning beds each year. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, using a tanning bed just once increases a person’s risk for developing melanoma by 20 percent.
Now for some good news about skin cancer: If diagnosed early enough, it is usually curable. Treatment depends on the type of cancer and its stage. In a very early stage, surgery to remove the cancer might be sufficient. In later stages, a doctor might recommend immunotherapy treatment or radiation therapy, to be sure that all of the cancer is destroyed.
After the tumor is removed, many patients consider reconstructive surgery to correct any deformity created when the cancer was removed. Reconstructive surgery is particularly useful when the cancer was on the face or another visible area of the skin.
You Can Minimize Your Risk
While there’s no 100 percent guaranteed way to prevent skin cancer, there are ways to greatly minimize your risk. Avoiding the sun is one of the best ways to reduce the chances of developing skin cancer. Staying out of the sun completely is ideal, but there are other ways to protect yourself when some sun exposure is unavoidable. For example, always wear sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more. Reapply the sunscreen every few hours, throughout the day. Wearing clothing made from opaque fabrics can also reduce your sun exposure, as can wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
Dr. Michael Schwartz, a board certified facial plastic surgeon in West Palm Beach, Florida, is happy to answer any other questions you might have about skin cancer and treatment options. Dr. Schwartz regularly performs reconstructive surgery on skin cancer patients. To make an appointment with him, call 561-655-5562 today.