- Silvia DiPaola
Sunscreen Everyday Keeps Skin Cancer Away!
By: Silvia DiPaola, Contributing Writer
According to the Merck Manuals (a database that doctors and other medical professions refer to), skin cancer rates are currently on the rise all over the globe. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the US, yet it is not spoken about often enough. Let’s change that!
Anyone is susceptible to getting skin cancer, but those who continuously sunbathe or spend a lot of time in the sun are most vulnerable to developing it. Before we delve into the different types of it, let’s discuss the anatomy of the skin, our body’s largest organ. The skin has several layers, but the two main layers are the epidermis (upper or outer layer) and the dermis (lower or inner layer). The epidermis is made up of 3 kinds of cells: squamous cells, basal cells, and melanocytes. Squamous cells are thin, flat cells that make up most of the epidermis. Basal cells are the round cells underneath the squamous cells. Melanocytes are found throughout the lower part of the epidermis. They produce melanin, which is the pigment that gives skin its color. When skin is exposed to the sun, melanocytes produce more melanin, and this causes the skin to tan, or darken.
Now, we can discuss the most common types of skin cancer. These include basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma, as per the CDC and the Merck Manuals. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common, accounting for 80% of all skin cancer cases. It manifests itself as a slowly growing nodule (a growth of cells), and it is derived from certain epidermal cells. it rarely spreads to other parts of the body, so the prognosis is generally good. It seems to be related to ultraviolet (UV) exposure. Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common type, and it accounts for 16% of cases. It involves malignant tumors of epidermal cells that invade the dermis. Generally, the prognosis for small tumors removed early is excellent. The spread of squamous cell carcinomas is uncommon, but it can occur. Finally, melanoma is the third most common and is responsible for 4% of cases annually. However, it is the most dangerous type to have, as it causes the most skin cancer deaths annually. Malignant melanoma arises from melanocytes in a colored area (like the skin, mucous membranes, eyes, etc). The prognosis is generally poor, as it spreads rapidly and can cause death within months of diagnosis. As for symptoms, skin cancers are often asymptomatic initially. The most frequent presentation of them is an irregular red or colored lesion that does not go away. Thus, it is important to be aware of the ABCDE rules for skin cancer, as these can help you identify signs of skin cancer in moles or skin lesions. A is Asymmetry, B is Borders (outer edges are uneven), C is Color (dark black or multiple colors), D is Diameter (greater than 6mm), and E is Evolving (changing in size, shape, and/or color). Moreover, some treatments for skin cancer include surgical excision (cutting it out of the skin), chemotherapy, and, occasionally, radiation. Treatments for melanoma will usually include immunotherapy, or a specific set of cancer-fighting drugs. You can see the differences between these types of skin cancer in the following image:
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, over 5.4 million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in America yearly! More younger adults are being diagnosed each year as well. Thus, it is important to be aware of various risk factors for skin cancer. The incidence is highest among outdoor workers, athletes, and sunbathers. Fair-skinned people (those with less melanin skin pigmentation) are most susceptible to developing it. It is also more common in those who have a family member with skin cancer, are over age 50, have used tanning beds, and/or have been sunburned.
Luckily, there are certain measures that you can take to lessen your risks of developing skin cancer. These include sun avoidance, using protective clothing, and wearing sunscreen. Sun avoidance means seeking shade, minimizing outdoor activities between 10 AM and 4 PM (when the sun's rays are strongest), and avoiding sunbathing and the use of tanning beds. Long-sleeved shirts, pants, and wide hats are your best friend to lessen direct skin exposure to the sun. Lastly, it is important to wear sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. It should also come with broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection, and you should use it as directed on the container (ex: reapplying it every 2 hours and/or after swimming or sweating profusely). This summer, make sure you remember to keep your sunblock and sun hats on standby; your skin will thank you in the future!
Link to cover image: https://images.medicinenet.com/images/article/main_image/skin-cancer-1.jpg