It’s the start of summer, which means it’s the start of the hottest weather of the year, and people are flocking outdoors. Skin cancer protection is a year-round effort, but it is vital to increase layers of protection as the UV index rises.
Skin cancer can come in several forms, each with its own level of risk. All types develop as a result of too much UV exposure – which means they can all be prevented by good sun protection, including sunscreen, hats, and heading for the shade. Talk to one of our providers about the right sunscreen for your skin, and be sure to make an appointment if you see any signs of the following conditions:
An actinic keratosis (AK) is a rough, dry, or scaly patch on your skin, often quite small, that develops from years of sun exposure – so keratoses appear most often after age 40, on the face, lips, ears, backs of the hands, forearms, scalp, or neck. They can be flat to slightly raised, hard and wart-like, red, pink, or brown, and can sometimes itch or burn. AKs are benign, but a small percentage of them can turn into skin cancer, most commonly squamous cell carcinoma (see below). When treated early, they are unlikely to become cancerous.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
The basal cells in your skin produce new cells as the old ones die off. Too much sun exposure can turn basal cells cancerous, usually but not always in the form of a slightly transparent bump on the skin or a sore that won’t heal. UV exposure, radiation therapy, and time spent in tanning beds all increase your chances of basal cell carcinoma.
Like all skin cancers, basal cell lesions are most common on parts of the body most exposed to the sun. They seldom spread to other organs in the body, but removing them can leave disfiguring scars. The lesions often come back, sometimes in the same spot.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinomas develop in the outermost layer of your skin. They often look like open sores, warts, scaly red patches, or elevated growths with a central depression. They may bleed or develop a crust. They can become disfiguring and sometimes life-threatening if allowed to grow.
Melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer. It develops in the pigment-producing cells of the skin. Melanomas often develop from moles, so can look like a mole –but an unusual, asymmetrical mole, often of more than one color. Melanomas can develop rapidly, usually with clear warning signs that all add up to change – in appearance or size. Like all skin cancers, melanoma is easiest to treat when caught early, but can be quite dangerous if left untreated for too long and allowed to spread to other organs.
If you see anything on your skin that is growing, bleeding, or changing in any way, call your dermatologist’s office right away. Change can be a sign of skin cancer. But when caught early, skin cancer can be cured. Remember your ABCDE’s of skin cancer and stay up-to-date with your annual skin cancer screening.