15 Things Your Dermatologist Wants You to Know About Skin Cancer from 15 Things Your Dermatologist Wants You to Know About Skin Cancer

15 Things Your Dermatologist Wants You to Know About Skin Cancer

Each year more new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed than the combined incidence of cancers of the breast, prostate, lung and colon, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime. But melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer, is also the least common, Dr. Elizabeth Hale, senior vice president of the Foundation and board-certified dermatologist, says. All types are easily treatable if caught in advance. “Men have the highest mortality rate because they don’t get their skin checked often enough,” she adds.

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer

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More than 2 million people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year in the U.S. and the incidence continues to rise. About 1.3 million of them are diagnosed with non-melanoma cancer, the UCSF School of Medicine says. On average, one American dies from melanoma every 52 minutes, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

There are other skin cancers

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There are three main types of skin cancer, Dr. Hale says. More than 5 million basal and squamous cell skin cancers are diagnosed each year. (These are found in about 3.3 million Americans; some people have more than one.) Melanoma, the most deadly type of skin cancer, will account for about 76,380 cases of skin cancer in 2016, according to the American Cancer Society. Other non-melanoma skin cancers account for less than 1 percent.

Melanoma is the least common, but the most aggressive type

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Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, Dr. Hale says, because it’s directly related to sun exposure. Its rates in the U.S. have doubled from 1982 to 2011, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). Approximately 75 percent of skin cancer deaths are from melanoma. In 2016, it is estimated that 10,130 deaths will be attributed to it.

Some types of skin are at higher risk

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Melanin which causes skin darkening, is protective against skin cancer, Dr. Hale says. People with fair skin, blonde or red hair, blue or green eyes, and freckles usually have less natural melanin, putting them at higher risk. Caucasians have an increased risk of developing skin cancer than non-whites, according to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America.

Early signs

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Any changes on your skin, especially in the size or color of a mole, growth, or spot, or a new growth, even if it has no color, can be a sign of skin cancer, the American Cancer Society warns. Other symptoms include scaliness, roughness, oozing, bleeding, or a changes in the way an area of the skin looks; a sore that doesn’t heal; the spreading of pigment beyond its border, such as dark coloring that spreads past the edge of a mole or mark; and a change in sensation, such as itchiness, tenderness, or pain.

Smoking increases the risk

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Smoking, one of the worst things you can do to your body, increases the risk of developing any type of cancer. However, this bad habit specifically increases the risk of developing squamous cell skin cancers in your lower lip, mouth and tongue because they are in direct contact with nicotine, which is a carcinogenic, Dr. Hale says.  

Other risk factors

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People with family history of skin cancer and with multiple atypical moles are at higher risk, Dr. Hale says. Also, the older you get, the higher your chances are of developing skin cancer due to accumulated exposure to UV radiation. But skin cancers are increasingly being found in younger individuals. The theory is that because they are spending more time outside. Weakened immune system, genetics and long-term skin inflammation are also risk factors.

Applying sun screen is not enough

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A number of studies suggest that the use of sunscreen does not significantly decrease the risk skin cancer, and may actually increase the risk of sunburns. People seem to forget that the sun sends two types of harmful rays: UVA and UVB. Most sunscreens protect just against UVB. Even though UVA rays don’t cause sunburn, they penetrate deeper into the skin and cause damage to DNA. The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a Washington-based research group, did a study which showed that many sunscreens are ineffective or contain harmful chemicals. Doctors recommend people should apply sunscreen lotion with an SPF of at least 30 at least every two hours.

Don’t use suntan booths

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“They are incredibly dangerous and, unfortunately, very poplar,” Dr. Hale says. By using tanning beds and lamps you are exposing your skin to ultraviolet radiation. “Even before you’re 35, you increase your chance of developing skin cancer by 75 percent; each session increases it by additional 20 percent,” she adds. Also, people tend to expose parts of the body that don’t normally see a lot of sun, Dr. Hale says. These areas are very sensitive and prone to skin cancer.

Most skin cancers are linked to UV rays but some are not

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The sun causes 90 percent of all skin cancers. But a study has shown that a large increase in reported incidence is likely to be due to diagnostic drift which classifies benign lesions as stage 1 melanoma. “There was no change in the combined incidence of the other stages of the disease, and the overall mortality only increased from 2.16 to 2.54 cases per 100,000 per year.” The researchers concluded that their findings should lead to “re-evaluation of the role of ultraviolet radiation and recommendations for protection from it.”

Follow Slip-Slop-Slap rules

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This is a rule created by an Australian skin cancer awareness campaign. The aim is to encourage people to apple sunscreen, wear sunglasses and hide under a shade. Slip on a shirt, Slop on at least 30+ sunscreen, Slap on a hat, Seek shade, Slide on some sunnies.

Early detection can save your life

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Basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, the two most common forms of skin cancer, are highly curable if detected early and treated properly, AAD says. The 5-year survival rate for people whose melanoma is detected and treated before it spreads to the lymph nodes is 98 percent.

The ABCDE rule

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The ABCDE rule is an effective way of recognizing skin cancer, Dr. Hale says. Asymmetry: Look at your moles and see if they have irregular shapes or two different looking halves. Border: Edges that seem blurred, rough or notched  may be an indication of a problemColor: Most moles are brown, black or pink. See your doctor if they change color at any point or spot. Diameter: “We’ve gotten much better at diagnosing very small melanomas, which is why the diameter factor is not as important anymore,” Dr. Hale says. Still, you should see a dermatologist if you have moles with a diameter of more than a quarter of an inch. Evolution:  “This is the most important one,” Dr. Hale says. If you see any change at all in any of the moles you have, you should see a doctor right away.

Men are more likely to develop some skin cancers

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Possibly due to increased exposure to the sun, men older than 50 have a higher risk of developing melanoma than the general population, according to AAD. In 2016, it is estimated that 10,130 deaths will be attributed to melanoma — 6,750 men and 3,380 women. There are two peaks in skin cancer, according to Dr. Hale: In women younger than 40 and older men. “Men have the highest mortality because they often detect the cancer in later stages,” she adds. “Women tend to get their skin checked more often, leading to early detection,” she adds.

Be aware of sun-sensitizing medications

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From common antibiotics to heart medications, certain drugs can increase sun sensitivity, causing the skin to burn in less time and with a lower level of sun exposure than normal. Studies have shown that these medications may act photosensitizing agents and may increase the incidence of skin cancer, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Doxycycline, an antibiotic used to treat acne, anti-aging Retin-A cream, and some blood pressure medications like HCTZ, are known to cause skin sensitivity, Dr. Hale says.

15 Things Your Dermatologist Wants You to Know About Skin Cancer