One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime and according to the Center for Disease Control, Washington State has one of the top ten highest incidence rates.
Over the past three decades, more people have had skin cancer than all other cancers combined. It’s important to be aware of the different types of skin cancers, signs, prevention, and what SPF really means.
What are the different types of skin cancer?
Basal cell carcinoma or BCC is the most common form with more than 4 million cases diagnosed in the U.S. each year. It typically can appear on parts of the body excessively exposed to the sun like the ears, face, neck, scalp, shoulders, and back. BCCs are usually slow growing but if left untreated, it can invade other tissue.
Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common type of skin cancer that is mainly caused by UV exposures over the course of a lifetime. It can occur all over the body including mucous membranes and genitals but it is most common in areas that frequent the sun such as the lower lip, scalp, neck, hands, arms, and legs.
Melanoma is the most dangerous and deadliest form of skin cancer that is often caused by ultraviolet radiation from the sun or tanning beds. They often resemble moles and are typically brown or black. If treated early, it is almost always curable but when undetected, it can quickly spread to other parts of the body and be fatal.
What signs should I be looking out for?
There are a number of signs you should be looking for. Some signs include scaly red patches with irregular borders, open sores that may bleed or crust, shiny bumps or nodules, or elevated growths. One of the most common signs to look for are called the ABCs. Here are some signs you should be aware of:
A-Asymmetry; if your mole is not perfectly symmetrical
B-Borders are fuzzy or uneven
C-Color; multiple shades, not one color
D-Diameter; pay attention to growths larger than 1/4th of an inch or 6mm
E-Evolving; moles or benign skin growths should stay the same over time
What are some good prevention tips?
Apply sunscreen often and thickly! Be sure to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher that protects against UVA and UVB rays and reapply every 2-3 hours. A good tip to remember is that one ounce of sunscreen covers your whole body. Be sure to wear protective clothing such as hats with a brim, long sleeve shirts, pants, and sunglasses. Sunscreen should be applied every day, regardless of weather. Around 80 percent of the sun's UV rays can pass through clouds and reflect off of surfaces like water. Finally, try to avoid mid-day sun since the sun’s rays are the strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Recently Dr. Jenkin was featured on Q13 News and spoke about skin cancer on the rise in Washington state.
What does the SPF really mean on sunscreen bottles?
SPF stands for sun protection factor and it tells you how long you can stay in the sun without getting burned while wearing sunscreen. The average light-skinned person can stay in the sun without sun protection for 15 minutes before starting to burn. Here are what those numbers mean:
•SPF 15=225 minutes of protection
•SPF 30=450 minutes of protection
•SPF 50=750 minutes of protection
What do I do if I think I might have skin cancer?
Make an appointment with a dermatologist or primary care physicians ASAP!
When choosing a dermatologist make sure they are board certified and that they have experience with skin cancer.
Peter Jenkin, MD, FAAD, FRCPC
Dermatology Associates of Seattle
Peter Jenkin, Clinic Director and Board-Certified Dermatologist at Dermatology Associates of Seattle is available for consultation. For scheduling and information, visit us at appointments.daseattle.com