Skin cancer is the most prevalent type of cancer in the United States and the number of people diagnosed with the disease continues to rise. However, most cases of skin cancer can be prevented according to the Surgeon General. If you spend a lot of time outdoors or want to decrease your chances of developing skin cancer, you should heed the following guidelines to lessen your chances of getting diagnosed with the disease.
Know the Basic Facts About Skin Cancer and Risk Factors
Most cases of skin cancer affect the outer layer of your skin, the epidermis. Also known as nonmelanoma skin cancer, these diseases generally respond to treatment and do not spread to other parts of your body. Melanoma is a more aggressive type of skin cancer that can invade internal tissue and spread throughout your body.
There are many risk factors for nonmelanoma skin cancers. The chances that you may develop the condition increases if you have a family history of skin cancer, have fair skin that burns easily, have trouble tanning or cannot tan at all.
Other risk factors include:
- A weak immune system or diagnosis of an autoimmune disease such as lupus or HIV
- Previous radiation treatment for other conditions
- Living in a high altitude area which increases your exposure to ultraviolet rays
- Taking medications that increase your sensitivity to sunlight or weaken your immune system
If you think you are at risk for skin cancer, make an appointment with a skin cancer treatment specialist to discuss your health concerns.
Give Yourself Skin Exams
If it is determined that you are at high risk for skin cancer, you should learn how to recognize the early signs of the condition. If you conduct periodic skin self-exams, you can increase your chances of early detection.
Make it routine to check your skin after bathing. Use mirrors to help you see areas like your back, neck, scalp and other hard-to-see places.
As you examine your skin look for:
- Sores that do not heal or seem to heal but come back later
- Changes in the color and size of moles
- Scars that begin to look waxy and turn white or yellow
- Cracked or peeling skin that does not become smoother or softer after you use moisturizing lotion or petroleum jelly
- Reddish patches of skin that become raised and do not go away
If you notice any of these symptoms, your doctor may suggest that you see a skin cancer treatment specialist to undergo a biopsy.
Don't Forget the Sunscreen, the Right Clothes & Accessories
When you protect your skin, you are also helping to regulate your body temperature, store water and increase your defense against infections from germs. Simple things, like wearing sunscreen year-round, can provide essential protection from UV radiation that can cause nonmelanoma and melanoma skin cancers.
Use a product that has an SPF of at least 15. If you plan to engage in an outdoor activity, reapply the sunscreen every two hours, even on cloudy days. UV rays can penetrate clouds and damage your skin even on overcast days.
You can further protect your skin by wearing protective clothing made out of tightly woven fabrics. If the temperature is not too oppressive, opt for long-sleeved shirts and pants instead of skimpy tops and shorts. Some apparel companies also sell clothing with UV ratings.
You should also wear a hat and sunglasses if you plan to be outside for an extended period. Reduce your exposure to the most harmful rays by staying inside when UV light is the strongest. The sun is strongest from mid-morning to mid-afternoon.
You can check the UV radiation levels in your area with free online and smartphone tools provided by the National Weather Service.
Stay Away From Tanning Beds
While tanning bed usage is decreasing in the US, millions of people continue to use the artificial tanning devices. Using a tanning bed can increase your chances of developing skin cancer because the devices emit UV rays.
The long term damage to your skin caused by tanning beds is not worth the short-term aesthetic benefits. If you want a quick tan without damaging your skin, use sunless tanning lotions.