It was August and I was on the beach with the kids, waiting for my husband’s call. He was at the doctor’s office meeting with his skin doctor about the growth on his nose. I thought about all the times I was so badly burned as a child, teen, young adult and throughout my life. The scent of Noxzema is a strong childhood memory easily conjured up by simply saying the word since I’d been covered in it many times as I shivered and surfed waves of nausea from sun poisoning.
I also remember our conversation before his initial consultation with the skin doctor, which was his first ever. “It can’t be cancer,” we agreed. “It’s not a growth or a mole. It’s more like an indentation. You can barely see it.” The phone rang and I saw it was him. “You’re fine right? It’s not cancer.”
“Yes,” he said. “It is cancer.”
My knees gave out and I landed on the soft sand, but that didn’t soften the assault of the c-word landing like a thud in my eardrum.
“It’s not the bad kind, but its still cancer.”
I was thrilled to know it wasn’t “the bad kind,” meaning melanoma, but it was still quite frightening that an indentation you had to squint to see qualified as skin cancer. He turned out to be fine, although he didn’t have any fun having the cancerous tissue of his nose removed.
I realized it was time to learn about it to avoid a future crisis. Considering May is National Skin Cancer Month, you may be interested in the breakdown by the American Academy of Dermatology, which says sin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S. It’s hard to believe someone dies approximately every hour from melanoma, the deadliest of skin cancers.
This year’s campaign is themed “Looking Good in 2016,” meant to encourage people to protect themselves from harmful ultraviolet rays and to have regularly scheduled skin cancer screenings. By using sun screen, sitting in the shade when you can, wearing large brimmed hats and avoiding exposure during peak hours of the day when ultraviolet rays are the most threatening, you can avoid the following:
Actinic Keratoses (AK)
- Dry, scaly patches or spots are precancerous growths.
- People who get AKs usually have fair skin.
- Most people see their first AKs after 40 years of age because AKs tend to develop after years of sun exposure.
- AKs usually form on the skin that gets lots of sun exposure, such as the head, neck, hands, and forearms.
- Because an AK can progress to a type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), treatment is important.
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC)
- The most common type of skin cancer.
- BCCs frequently develop in people who have fair skin, yet they can occur in people with darker skin.
- BCCs look like a flesh-colored, pearl-like bump or a pinkish patch of skin.
- BCCs develop after years of frequent sun exposure or indoor tanning.
- BCC are common on the head, neck, and arms, yet can form anywhere on the body, including the chest, abdomen, and legs.
- Early diagnosis and treatment for BCC is important. BCC can invade the surrounding tissue and grow into the nerves and bones, causing damage and disfigurement.
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)
- SCC is the second most common type of skin cancer.
- People who have light skin are most likely to develop SCC, yet they can develop in darker-skinned people.
- SCC often looks like a red firm bump, scaly patch, or a sore that heals and then re-opens.
- SCC tend to form on skin that gets frequent sun exposure, such as the rim of the ear, face, neck, arms, chest, and back. SCC can grow deep in the skin and cause damage and disfigurement. Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent this and stop SCC from spreading to other areas of the body.
- Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer.
- Melanoma frequently develops in a mole or suddenly appears as a new dark spot on the skin.
- Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial.
- Knowing the ABCDE warning signs of melanoma can help you find an early melanoma.
A common rule of thumb is: If you can spot it, you can stop it. In the U.S. more than 5.4 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are treated in more than 3.3 million people. While it’s the easiest to cure, it must be diagnosed and treated early. If left to progress, skin cancer can lead to disfigurement or even death. It is helpful to research photos of what to look for.
The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends monthly self-exams to look for spots that are either new or changing. If a spot looks suspicious, see a doctor. But first, have a doctor conduct a full-body exam to check all moles, spots, and freckles to be sure they are normal.
Here are some facts about prevention and early detection:
- 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime.
- Your risk for developing melanoma doubles if you have had more than five sunburns.
- Regular daily use of SPF 15 or higher sunscreen reduces risk of melanoma by 50 percent.
- Nearly 50 percent of Americans who live to age 65 will have skin cancer at least once.
- People who first use a tanning bed before age 35 increase their risk for melanoma by 75 percent.
- It is effective to cover up with clothing, a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
- It is effective to use a broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day, and for extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
- It is effective to examine your skin from head to toe every month.
- It is effective to sit in the shade between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to protect yourself from harmful sun exposure.
- Newborns should be kept out of the sun. For babies older than six months, sunscreen should be used.