Fair-skinned people are the most susceptible to skin cancer, but even those with a darker complexion are at risk. The three leading forms of skin cancer are basil cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma, and all are caused to some extent by long-term sun exposure. Naturally occurring pigment known as melanin provides natural protection from potentially harmful UV rays, but long-term exposure increases the risk for everyone. That is why it is vitally important to wear high SPF sunblock, wide-brim hats and protective clothing.
Basal cell carcinoma can usually be identified by a characteristic firm and slow-growing shiny papule or bump. The protrusion may rupture, bleed, and develop a central scab. It may also flatten and look like scar tissue. The border may appear thick and translucent white.
Melanoma can be flat, raised, and irregular, and it can develop on seemingly healthy skin as well as on moles. The color can vary and include patches and/or solid areas of gray, brown, black, and/or deep blue pigment. The surrounding skin can become brown, blue, white and/or red.
Squamous cell carcinoma appears as a scaly irregular and reddish patch that never heals. As it advances, it can become firm and develop a warty appearance.
Skin cancer is caused by a mutation in the DNA of your skin cells, which then grow wildly, spreading to other parts of your skin and body. Skin cancer is most often caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. Tanning beds have also been known to cause skin cancer. However, there have been cases of skin cancer in which the patient wasn’t regularly exposed to sunlight. This means that there are other causes of the disease, such as toxic substance exposure.
Certain risk factors make it more likely that you’ll get skin cancer. They include having fair skin, having a family history of skin cancer, and having precancerous skin lesions. People with less pigment in their skin have less protection from the damaging UV rays. Blonde hair, freckles and light-colored eyes mean you burn more easily than a person with darker skin. A family history of cancer could mean your parents, or a sibling, has a history of skin cancer, which means a heightened risk for you. Precancerous skin lesions (known as actinic keratosis) usually mean that you may be developing skin cancer. Typically, they appear on the face, hands, and head of fair-skinned people with sun-damaged skin.
You’re also at a higher risk if you have a weakened immune system, you’ve had exposure to certain substances (like arsenic), you’ve had skin cancer before, or you have been spending a lot of time in the sun. A history of sunburns, multiple moles, or a sunny or high-altitude climate can also cause skin cancer.
Treatment vary depending on the skin cancer being treated.
Basil cell carcinoma is surgically removed by either cutting, burning, or scraping away the unhealthy tissue. Topical chemotherapy drugs may be used. Radiation treatment is rarely prescribed.
Melanoma is usually surgically removed and include one centimeter of healthy surrounding tissue. When the cancer has spread, chemotherapy is used.
Squamous cell carcinoma is either scraped away, burned, cut out, or treated with topical chemotherapy drugs. Radiation is sometimes used.
You can prevent skin cancer by using sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every time you go out into the sun for extended periods of time. Also, avoid being in the sun between 10am and 4pm because the sun’s rays are strongest between those hours. Wearing sunscreen year-round is also recommended. Be sure to check your skin frequently to make sure there aren’t any bumps, moles, or new growths.
Stay away from tanning beds and sun-sensitizing medications like certain antibiotics and over-the-counter drugs.