May has arrived and summer will be here before we know it. While warm weather activities might look different this year, that doesn’t mean you and your family can’t find new ways to enjoy the sun.
Coincidentally, May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month—and the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays are one of the main causes of skin cancer. We encourage you to learn and share the facts about skin cancer and the warning signs, because together, we can save lives.
Skin Cancer – The Basics:
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, but it is also one of the most preventable. Approximately one in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the time they turn 70, but practicing proper sun protection and knowing how to spot warning signs can help catch skin cancer early and save lives.
There are several different types of skin cancer. The three most common types are basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and melanoma. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, exposure to UV radiation from the sun can be connected to about 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers and 85 percent of melanoma formations.
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common type of skin cancer. BCCs tend to be round growths and can be flesh-colored or pinkish. While BCCs can form anywhere on the body, they are most likely found on the head, neck, or arms—areas that are more frequently exposed to the sun. BCCs may look small on the surface, but they can grow deep and cause damage beneath the skin, so early detection and treatment is important.
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common type of skin cancer. SCC typically develops as a firm red bump, a scaly patch of skin, or a sore that never seems to heal. This type of skin cancer also typically develops on areas of the body that get exposed to sun, like the head, neck, arms, back, and chest. Like BCCs, SCCs can grow deep and cause damage if not treated.
Melanoma is probably the most well-known type of skin cancer because of its dangerous nature to spread. A melanoma is sometimes hard to spot because it can grow from an existing mole. In other cases, a melanoma might appear almost suddenly as a dark spot that looks slightly different from other moles. With melanoma, early detection and treatment are especially vital—it’s important to regularly self-examine your body for anything that may look questionable. In the next section, we’ll explain a simple way for you to check for signs of melanoma.
How Can I Check for Signs of Skin Cancer?
When skin cancer is caught early, it is very treatable. It’s important to self-examine yourself for any new, unusual, or concerning growths and get them checked by a dermatologist. Take notes or pictures while you self-examine to keep track of existing bumps or moles—this way, you can tell if any start to change or if new growths appear.
Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma tend to be more straightforward in appearance then melanoma. Again, these types of skin cancer most commonly develop on skin that gets more sun exposure, so be sure to thoroughly check your head, neck, arms, chest, and back. If you think you may have BCC or SCC, please contact your dermatologist.
Melanoma can sometimes be difficult to detect since it can blend in with or start from regular moles. A simple way to examine moles or pigmented spots is with the ABCDEs of melanoma. If the spot in question has any of these characteristics, you should contact your dermatologist.
A: Asymmetry – One side of the spot is a different shape than the other.
B: Border – The spot has an irregular or unclear border.
C: Color – The spot is multiple different colors, such as brown, black, tan, or red.
D: Diameter – The spot is larger than 6 millimeters, which is about the size of a pencil eraser.
E: Evolving – The spot looks different than other spots or changes in shape, color, or size.
As a general rule for detecting any type of skin cancer, consult with your dermatologist if you notice any new spots, spots that have changed or are changing, or spots that itch or bleed.
Lower Your Risk with Proper Sun Protection
No matter what activities you plan to do this summer, we encourage everyone to take precautions when spending time outside. These sun safety tips can help reduce the risk of skin cancer by protecting your skin from harmful UV radiation. It’s also important to remember that UV rays can still cause damage on cloudy days, so these tips are applicable to all the time you spend outside.
- Stay in the shade between 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. when the sun is most direct
- Use sunscreen with at least SPF 15 and both UVA and UVB coverage
- Wear sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection
- Wear a lightweight shirt that covers your arms and shoulders
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect your face and neck
- Reapply sunscreen often—at least every two hours and always after swimming or sweating
Taking care of your skin today can lower your risk of skin cancer in the future. We hope you will join us in raising awareness about skin cancer by sharing the facts and normalizing sun protection!
You can learn more about skin cancer at https://skincancer.org.