It’s almost summer time, and many of us are already spending more time outside enjoying the warm weather. Most of us don’t consider the consequences of increased sun exposure on our skin, even indirect exposure. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States, with about one million new cases every year. The three common forms of skin cancer are distinguished by the types of cells affected: melanoma, basal cell and squamous cell. While melanoma is less common than basal and squamous cell cancers, it is the most dangerous. If caught early, melanoma can be treated; however, if left untreated, melanoma can spread to other parts of the body.
What is Melanoma?
Melanoma is a cancer of melanocytes, which are cells whose primary function is to make pigment. These cells are located in the layers of epidermis, or the outer layer of skin. Melanocytes are also responsible for making birthmarks and freckles; however, in those cases, the cells are not cancerous. Melanomas can form on any part of the skin but are most commonly found on the chest and back in men, and the legs in women. Melanomas can also develop on the neck and face, and they sometimes occur in the eye and in mucosal surfaces, such as the mouth and bowel.
Why do dermatologists recommend applying sunscreen daily?
Skin cancer is most commonly a result of excessive exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. The sun contains two types of these rays: UVB, which are responsible for sunburns, and UVA, which cause cell aging and long-term skin damage. Both rays cause damage to skin cells’ DNA, resulting in abnormal cell growth. Here are some tips to protect your skin from the sun’s harsh rays and prevent skin cancer:
- Use a broad spectrum SPF of a level 15 or higher, which is a type of sunscreen that protects the skin from both UVA and UVB rays.
- Avoid outdoor activity between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun’s rays are most intense.• Wear protective clothing as well as a hat and sunglasses to protect more sensitive parts of the body.
- Remember, the UV rays can go through light clothing, windshields, windows, and clouds.
- While shade offers some protection, the sun’s UV rays can still penetrate through clouds and trees and have harmful effects.
Remember, skin cancer is generally treatable if detected early. If you haven’t done so, give your body a quick scan, and repeat this practice at least once a month. Get to know the pattern of moles, spots, freckles, and other marks on your skin. If you notice any new moles or changes in shape or color to existing ones, please contact your healthcare provider.
Have additional questions? Join Dr. Suephy Chen on May 14, 2012 at 11:30 AM EST for a live online discussion about diagnosing and treating melanoma.