After a long winter of being stuck indoors, people are looking for more ways to get outside and stay active. As everyone continues to practice social distancing, it's also important to remember to protect your skin. Even though it's healthy to get a bit of sun exposure each day; it's just as important to take the necessary precautions to protect your skin from the sun's ultraviolet radiation by using SPF 30+ sunscreen.
With more than 3.5 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer diagnosed each year, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. Fortunately, it is also one of the most preventable forms of cancer.
Here’s a quick guide on the different types of skin cancer, the risks associated with it, and simple ways you can detect and prevent it.
Skin Cancer Versus Melanoma
Many people think that melanoma is synonymous with skin cancer. In actuality, melanoma is just one type of skin cancer.
Skin cancer occurs when there’s an uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells. The type of skin cancer you have is defined by what happens when these abnormal cells grow.
Different Types of Skin Cancer
- Basal Cell Carcinoma - the most common kind of skin cancer. It develops on skin that is often exposed to sun, such as the skin on the head, neck and face. It’s found on the lower layer of skin.
- Squamous Cell Carcinoma - like basal cell carcinoma, it develops on skin exposed to sun; however, it occurs on the skin’s surface.
- Melanoma - the most serious form of skin cancer. People usually develop it from a mole or pigmented lesion.
How to Prevent Skin Cancer
Both genetic and environmental factors play a role in the development of skin cancer. Although genetics make it more difficult to prevent, there are still some things you can do to know your risk and take the steps needed to prevent it.
- Know your family history. Approximately 10 percent of people with melanoma have a family history of melanoma. Therefore, we recommend that close relatives (parents, brothers, sisters and children) of a person with melanoma routinely have their skin examined.
- Consider your personal history. People who have a history of blistering sunburns in childhood are more at risk, as are those with a fair complexion, blonde or red hair, blue eyes and freckles. This doesn’t mean that darker skinned people can’t get skin cancer too. African Americans, Asians and Hispanics are more likely to develop melanoma on the soles of their feet and palms of their hands – and it often turns out to be a more serious case. Also, those with a weakened immune system are more likely to develop many types of skin cancer, including melanoma. Stay vigilant about doing your monthly self-checks and asking your dermatologist questions about your skin.
- Get any moles or growths checked by a dermatologist. People with a lot of moles or ones with an irregular color and shape have a higher risk of developing melanoma. If you notice anything suspicious, see a doctor immediately. Even if you don’t have moles, you should see a dermatologist annually and check your own skin once a month. This is especially important if you delayed your annual skin exam due to COVID.
- Wear and reapply sunscreen. You’ve heard it a million times: Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun can cause skin cancer. Sunscreen offers the best protection against skin cancer, next to staying out of the sun altogether or covering up with sun protective clothing. To be effective, we recommend that all sunscreens be liberally applied (at least one ounce for the entire body) to all exposed areas of the body, at least 15 minutes before going outside. This doesn’t mean only applying sunscreen in the summer when you’re on a beach either; you should apply sunscreen – especially to your face – every day, all year long. There are tons of great products out there that can make it easier to apply and more comfortable to wear, such as powder sunscreens or concealer with SPF 30.
- Avoid Tanning. Tanning both outside or indoors can have dangerous consequences. There is no such thing as a "healthy tan." The best way to protect your skin from sun damage and possible skin cancers is to avoid tanning altogether. Try a self-tanning lotion or spray instead.
- Remove your nail polish. It may sound silly, but melanoma can creep under and around the toe nails – and nail polish may hide it. If you polish your toes, remove the color at least once a month and inspect your whole foot for anything that looks irregular.
Screenings and Treatment
When it comes to preventing and detecting skin cancer, it pays to be mindful and take extra precautions whenever you’re outside. When it does occur, early detection is vital to getting the best possible outcome.
If you’re overdue for your annual skin exam, now is the time to prioritize your health and schedule an appointment. Penn has put strict safety measures in place to protect patients against COVID-19, including a universal masking policy, rigorous sanitation and disinfection protocols and physical distancing with very minimal contact.