PHILADELPHIA (May 14, 2020) – May is Skin Cancer Prevention Month. Skin cancer is, by far, the most common type of cancer in the US, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).
The two most common types of skin cancers, basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers, are usually very treatable and most commonly found in areas exposed to the sun—such as the head, neck and arms. The third most common type of skin cancer, melanoma, is more dangerous and likely to spread. Today, melanoma is one of the most common cancers in young adults (those younger than age 30), especially in young women.
About 5.4 million basal and squamous cell skin cancers are diagnosed each year in the US. Death from basal and squamous cell skin cancers is uncommon. Melanoma accounts for only about 1 percent of skin cancers but causes a large majority of skin cancer deaths. The ACS estimates about 6,850 people (4,610 men and 2,240 women) will die of melanoma in 2020.
“Anyone can get skin cancer – the disease does not discriminate. When skin cancer is caught early, more treatment ptions are available, and most skin cancers are often curable,” said Jeffrey Farma, MD, FACS, chief of the Division of General Surgery at Fox Chase. “Everyone should know the early signs of skin cancer and protect their skin from the sun’s damaging rays.”
SKIN CANCER PREVENTION
According to the ACS, most skin cancers are caused by too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which comes directly from the sun or man-made sources, like tanning beds and sun lamps. Fortunately, everyone can take action to protect their skin from UV radiation.
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 helpful tool in identifying 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.
“By being familiar with your skin markings, like moles, freckles and blemishes, it’s easier notice if any changes occur,” said Farma. “If a change does occur, contact your doctor as soon as possible. Be vigilant in checking your skin regularly, and have your skin examined annually by a doctor or dermatologist for signs of skin cancer.”
- Seek shade. UV rays are strongest in the middle of the day, between 10am and 4pm. 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 must 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. Tanning is never safe. Studies have shown that exposure to UV radiation damages your skin, whether the exposure comes from the sun or tanning beds. 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.