Melanoma and Skin Cancer Awareness Month

As we transition into the month of May, we are also getting into Skin Cancer Awareness Month. During this time, there is increased interest and attention in detection, prevention, and treatment of skin cancer. Skin cancer, in a general sense, is the abnormal growth of skin cells which most often develops from prolonged or cumulative exposure to the sun. There are various types of skin cancer but the three most common are: Basal Cell Carcinoma, Squamous Cell Carcinoma, and Melanoma.

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common skin cancer of the three as approximately 3.6 million people in the United States are diagnosed with it each year. This type of cancer affects your basal cells which line the deepest layer of the epidermis (the outermost layer of the skin). BCC can take on various forms on the skin. It can appear as a bump, red patch, or an open sore. The good news about BCC is that it rarely metastasizes meaning there is a low chance of the cancer spreading to other organs in your body. It is still best to identify it as soon as possible because if it is left untreated for an extended period, then it can cause significant scarring or disfigurement.

The second most common skin cancer is squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). This type of cancer affects your squamous cells which make up the inner and outer layer of your skin. SCC is usually caused by cumulative exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays which comes from the sun, and it also comes from some artificial sources of light like tanning beds. Just like basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma can present itself in more than one way. It can be present as warts, open sores, or scaly red patches and the site may crust or bleed. SCC is more troublesome than BCC since it can metastasize if not caught early and left untreated, but it does not happen often.

The last major form of skin cancer is melanoma which is probably the most dangerous one. Melanoma develops in the pigment producing cells in the skin, melanocytes, and it can be difficult to treat and fatal if it is not detected early and allowed to progress. The likelihood of a person surviving if their melanoma is detected early is very high which is why it is important to know how to identify it. One of the ways to identify if a bump you have could be melanoma is by knowing the ABCDEs of melanoma: 

Graphic with side by side comparison of moles vs signs of melanoma.

But if you do develop any unusual marks on your skin that you are worried about, it is always best to see a doctor.

To lower your risk of developing skin cancer, it is important to limit your exposure to UV rays. There are weather websites that will show something called the UV index which tells you how intense the UV radiation will be throughout the day. When it is on the higher side, you would want to try to stay in the shade when you can and use sunblock SPF 30+ for when you are exposed to the sun. SPF 30 is the one that is recommended for regular use as it offers a great amount of protection for most people. The best SPF for sunblock varies based on the person and situation. People more prone to sunburn and people who will be outside in the sun all day might want a SPF higher than 30. Another way to avoid UV rays is through clothing. Wearing long lightweight clothing that covers your arms and legs prevents the sunlight from making direct contact with your skin. A wide brim hat is also useful as it can protect your head a neck from the sunlight as well.

Melanoma and Skin Cancer Awareness Month

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