For many Baby Boomers, summer memories include slathering themselves up with baby oil to "perfect" that summertime tan.
Unfortunately, 30 years later, they are seeing the results of all those tans: skin cancer and prematurely aged skin.
The good news is that all skin cancers are visible, and when caught early, are highly treatable.
So let me educate you on who is at risk for skin cancer, what it looks like, and what you can do to prevent it or catch it early.
Who is at risk for skin cancer? One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime,
and some experts say as many as 30-40% of all light-skinned Americans will develop at least one skin cancer by age 65.
Dermatologists classify skin into six different subtypes. Type I skin is the redhead with freckles who only burns, never tans.
Then there is Type II, who always burns but is able to minimally tan. Finally, Type III are those who can tan but get the
initial burn at the beginning of the summer. People with these three skin types are most likely to develop skin cancer and
also show signs of early sun-damage: brown spots, wrinkles, and broken blood vessels. Those with darker skin should
not have a false sense of security, as they need to protect themselves from excessive sun exposure and do periodic skin checks, too.
The three main types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and melanoma.
There are about 1 million new cases of BCC, 300,000 cases of SCC, and about 50,000 cases of melanoma diagnosed
every year in the US. Melanoma causes 80% of the deaths from skin cancer, and one person dies every hour from melanoma.
Basal cell carcinomas can look like a pearly pink bump or shiny red patch. They can act like a sore that never heals,
becomes painful or bleeds. They can also develop a sore in the center like a crater. They tend to develop on the head, neck,
and other areas that get a lot of sun exposure. They usually don't metastasize or spread, but they can grow deep down and
destroy underlying tissue and even bone. They have a high cure rate, but if you've had one, you have a 40% chance of getting
another one in the next 5 years. They are treated with a minor surgical procedure or surgical excision.
Squamous cell carcinomas can also behave like a red sore that never heals, is painful, or bleeding, but these tend to be
more rough and scaly patches. They can arise from precancerous lesions called actinic keratosis, which are gritty or
sandpaper-like red spots. Studies have shown that people who wear sunscreen on a daily basis, not just
"when they go out in the sun;' have fewer actinic keratosis and squamous cell carcinomas.
Squamous cell carcinoma is also treated by a minor surgical procedure or surgical excision.
Finally, there is melanoma: the most rare but most deadly form of skin cancer. It usually looks like a brown,
black, or multicolored spot (blue/brown/black/white/red) that is evolving over time, and becoming asymmetrical
with irregular borders and variegated colors.
You can remember the ABCDE's of melanoma to help you identify a lesion that should be checked by your doctor:
A-asymmetrical, B-borders irregular, C-color (more than one color within the same lesion),
D-diameter greater than 6mm (or the size of a pencil eraser), and E-evolving over time.
People with a family history of melanoma, more than 50 moles on their body, or biopsy-proven atypical moles should have a
full-body skin examination at least once a year. Melanoma is curable if found and treated early.
Melanoma is treated with surgery and sometimes chemotherapy.
So when you go out to play, play it safe. This involves a multi-step sun-protection plan: cover up with sun-protective clothing
(hats and sun-protective fabrics), seek the shade (find that table with the umbrella), and apply sunscreen.
Look for a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, and one that says "broad-spectrum" or UVA/UVB protection.
Specific ingredients to look for to make sure you are getting enough UVA protection are Zinc, Titanium, and Avobenzone.
If you get wet, reapply the sunscreen, even if it is "water-resistant." And don't forget to cover places like your lips and ears.
Throughout the year, check all of your skin with a full-length mirror for any changing or abnormal looking spots,
and bring them to the attention of your doctor. You play a vital role in protecting yourself from skin cancer and detecting it early.
Regardless of the time of year - enjoy the sun safely!
Dr. Simon a board certified by the American Board of Dermatology and a fellow of the American Academy
of Dermatology and the American Society of Dermatologic Surgeons.
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