May is skin cancer awareness month. Why?
The weather is getting nicer! Sun dresses are coming out! People are having parties outside and hanging out by the pool! Summer sports are starting! All of these great things share a hidden danger- the sun! Here are four facts that you need to know about skin cancer.
1) UV light causes skin cancer.
As you may know, the sun gives off many kinds of light. There’s the kind we can see that makes the ocean blue and palm trees green.
Seven Mile Beach, Grand Cayman
But it also gives off invisible rays that have a lot more energy than visible light and can be harmful. Ultraviolet light, or UV light, has the ability to damage your DNA. If enough damage occurs, skin cells no longer behave like normal cells- this change in behavior causes them to become cancerous! Indoor tanning beds give you a high dose of UV light in a short time and greatly increase your risk of skin cancer. But don’t take my word for it- ask the Center for Disease Control.
2) Not all skin cancers are created equal.
Skin cancer comes in three main flavors. Basal cell carcinoma is by far the most common. It is easily treated by simple excision which can often be done in the office. Most basal cell cancers look like little pearly bumps that can have prominent blood vessels running over them. Sometimes they ulcerate and can bleed. Here is an example of a basal cell carcinoma on one of my patients.
Squamous cell carcinoma is the next most common type of skin cancer. These growths look like red, scaly lesions and tend to behave more aggressively. Usually they are easily treated with excision that can be done in the office. Here is an example of a squamous cell carcinoma.
Melanoma is the least common kind of skin cancer. It’s so uncommon that I don’t have any good pictures to show you! Most melanomas start as pigmented moles that start to change in color, size, or border. Melanoma is an important enough topic that we’ll talk about it in more depth later BECA– USE IT CAN KILL YOU.
Editor’s note: we now have a post up on Melanoma complete with pictures. Click here to check it out.
3) Skin cancer doesn’t just happen to pale people.
It’s true that fair skinned and red-headed people are more prone to skin cancer. Our skin contains a pigment called melanin that helps keep us safe from UV light. Extremely pale people have very little of this pigment, so they are at the highest risk to develop skin cancer. But just having a lot of melanin does not make you immune to skin cancer, especially if you spend a lot of time in the sun or use tanning beds. I personally have diagnosed and treated skin cancer in people with darker complexions and hispanic ethnicity.
4) Sun screen isn’t just a beauty item.
I’ve talked a lot before about using sunscreen to prevent sun damage so you’ll look good. But because it blocks or absorbs the sun’s UV rays, sunscreen also protects your cells from UV-induced DNA damage. SO SUNSCREEN PROTECTS YOU FROM SKIN CANCER. Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide based sunscreens are best – these are often called mineral based sunscreens. Chemical sunscreens are also popular, but they may be too harsh for people with sensitive skin. If you’re unsure about which sunscreen if right for you, stop by to talk to us about it.
Skin cancer is a common disease – I see several new cases every week in my practice. Fortunately, we have effective treatments available for the most common kinds of skin cancer, especially if they are caught early. If you are concerned about your skin cancer risk or need to have an unusual growth on your face checked, please make an appointment for a consultation!
To see before and after photos of patients who have been treated for skin cancer by Dr. Schmidt, click here!