PHILADELPHIA (May 9, 2019) – May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month. As you spend more time outdoors this season, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the early signs of skin cancer and learn how you can protect your skin from the sun’s damaging rays.
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), cancers of the skin are by far the most common type of cancer. There are three types of skin cancer. Basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers are most often found in areas exposed to the sun, such as the head, neck and arms. They can also occur elsewhere and are very common and usually very treatable. Melanoma is less common but more likely to grow and spread. Whereas deaths from basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers are uncommon, the ACS estimates that about 7,230 people will die of melanoma in 2019 (about 4,740 men and 2,490 women).
As individuals age, so does their risk for melanoma, with 63 years old being the average age at diagnosis. Today, melanoma is one of the most common cancers in young adults (those younger than age 30), especially in young women.
SKIN CANCER PREVENTION
Most skin cancers are caused by too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, according to the ACS. “Fortunately, everyone can take action to protect their skin from UV radiation, which comes directly from the sun or man-made sources, like tanning beds,” said Jeffrey M. Farma, MD, FACS, surgical oncologist at Fox Chase Cancer Center. “When skin cancer is caught early, more treatment options are available. The good news is that most skin cancers can be treated effectively and are often curable.”
In its 2018 final recommendation, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended counseling for young adults, adolescents, children, and parents of young children about minimizing exposure to UV radiation for fair-skinned persons ages 6 months to 24 years, to reduce their risk of skin cancer. The Task Force also recommended that counseling be selectively offered to adults older than 24 years with fair skin about minimizing their exposure to UV radiation to reduce the risk of skin cancer.
The most important warning sign for skin cancer is a new spot on the skin, or a spot that’s changing in size, shape, or color. The ABCDE rule of skin cancer is a useful for helping to identify possible malignancies:
- A = Asymmetry: Melanoma lesions are often asymmetrical (not equal on both sides) in shape. Benign moles are usually symmetrical.
- B = Border: Melanoma lesions usually have irregular borders that are hard to define. Non-cancerous moles usually have smooth borders.
- C = Color: A mole with more than one color (blue, black, brown, tan, etc.) or the uneven distribution of color may be a warning sign of melanoma. Benign moles are usually a single shade of brown or tan.
- D = Diameter: Melanoma lesions are often larger than 6 millimeters in diameter (about the size of a pencil eraser).
- E = Evolution: Evolution means a mole is changing in size, shape or color. Knowing what is normal for you could save your life. “If a mole or marking has gone through recent changes in color and/or size, contact your doctor as soon as possible,” said Farma. “Skin cancer affects people of all skin tones, despite complexion.”
“When you know your skin markings, like moles, freckles and blemishes, there’s a greater likelihood you’ll notice any changes that occur,” said Farma. “Be sure to look over your skin regularly, and get it checked each year by a doctor or dermatologist for signs of skin cancer.”
- Seek shade, especially when the sun is strongest, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Use the shadow test to determine how strong the sun’s rays are: if your shadow is shorter than you, then rays are strongest. Be aware that UV rays can reach below the surface of water, such as a swimming pool or ocean, so you can still get sunburn.
- Protect with clothing. If light can shine through your clothing, then UV rays can penetrate as well. Dark colors provide better protection than light ones, as do more tightly knit weaves. Wear UV-blocking sunglasses for eye protection and a wide-brimmed hat to protect your scalp, face and ears.
- Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher on unprotected skin, paying close attention to the face, ears, neck, arms and any other areas not covered by clothing. Use lip balm with sunscreen on your lips. Be aware that sunscreen does not protect you completely and needs to be reapplied at least every two hours to maintain protection. Sunscreen is just as important on hazy or overcast days.
- Avoid tanning beds, booths and sunlamps. There is no safe tanning. Studies have shown that exposure to UV radiation damages your skin, whether the exposure comes from tanning beds or natural sunlight. Tanning bed use has been linked with an increased risk of melanoma, especially if it’s started before a person is 30.
For more information on skin cancer and the Fox Chase Cancer Center Melanoma Program, please call
1-888-FOX CHASE or visit FoxChase.org.