Beach weather gives us the opportunity to get outdoors, enjoy the fresh air, and soak up some Vitamin D, but also brings concerns about excessive sun exposure. With stronger and more frequent sun comes a higher risk for skin to be damaged by UV rays, making the body more susceptible to skin cancer.
Skin cancer is one of the most common types of cancer. The Skin Cancer Foundation states that more people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year in the U.S. than all other cancers combined. The cause is most often UV rays from the sun or tanning beds. Skin cancer is generally categorized into two groups, melanoma, and nonmelanoma.
Melanoma cancer begins in melanocytes, which are cells that produce skin pigment (melanin) and reside deep within the epidermis (the outer layer of the skin). Melanoma is known to often be more serious than nonmelanoma cancer because it has the tendency to advance and spread rapidly. The number of new melanoma cases are also on the rise. That being said, the earlier the detection of melanoma, the higher the chances are of it being curable. Skin affected by melanoma can look similar to a normal mole, but there are a few qualities that differentiate these growths from benign (noncancerous) growths. If the growth shows an unusually dark color or multiple colors, has uneven and unclear borders or is larger than other moles, it would be a good idea to see a doctor.
Nonmelanoma skin cancer is more common, and there are many different types of skin cancer that fall under this category. Basal cell and squamous cell cancers are diagnosed most frequently. Unlike melanoma, basal cell cancer rarely spreads to other sites in the body and is not commonly life-threatening. Other nonmelanoma cancers can be very deadly, so the spectrum of severity is large within this classification. Nonmelanoma cancers also house a large range of physical appearances from open sores, to reddish patches, to scaly growths.
A staple warning sign for all types of skin cancer is a growth or abnormality that is becoming bigger or changing over time. Make sure to get to know your skin and look out for any changes, especially in the months that have stronger sun.
There are many misconceptions about skin cancer prevention, so it’s important to keep up-to-date on trustworthy prevention guidelines from credible sites such as skincancer.org or cancer.gov. Tanning beds and sunburns do increase your risk of skin cancer, and you are still susceptible to skin cancer even if your skin doesn’t typically burn. Always using a sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher is essential, and make sure to apply 30 minutes before sun exposure. It’s also a good idea to cover up with clothing and seek shade when possible.
Although skin cancer is such a common disease, education on how to reduce the risk and ensure early detection can help us decrease the number of deaths from the disease as well as the billions of dollars that are being spent on skin cancer treatments annually.