According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the U.S. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) adds that over one million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer on an annual basis.
The three types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. Generally speaking, the first two types of skin cancer are treatable and typically curable. As the NCI explains, basal cell skin cancer develops slowly on areas commonly exposed to the sun, like the face. This type of cancer very rarely spreads to other parts of the body. Squamous skin cell cancer, on the other hand, may develop on places not typically exposed to sunlight and can spread to lymph nodes and other internal organs.
Melanoma is the third type of skin cancer and can be deadly, and it’s often caused by ultraviolet (UV) light, which is responsible for 65 percent to 90 percent of melanoma cases. UV rays are a type of radiation that originate from the sun, sunlamps and tanning beds.
The types of UV rays include ultraviolet A (UVA), ultraviolet B (UVB) and ultraviolet C (UVC). UVA rays reach the earth’s surface and can penetrate beyond the top layer of a person’s skin. UVB rays are mostly absorbed by the ozone layer, so the ability for the rays to penetrate the layers of human skin is less powerful; nevertheless, the effects of UVB rays can be harmful. Finally, UVC rays are absorbed entirely by the ozone, and so they don’t reach ground level.
Additional factors contributing toward increased risk of skin cancer include having a lighter skin color, numerous moles, a family history of skin cancer, severe sunburns during childhood and constant exposure to the sun. People with blue or green eyes as well as blonde or red hair, or people with skin that burns or freckles easily should take extra caution when in the sun.
What are some protective measures to take against UV rays? Even though people cannot control the strength of UV rays from day to day, they can monitor the strength of ray exposure levels by way of the UV Index, thanks to the National Weather Service and Environmental Protection Agency. Also, stay far, far away from the likes of artificial UV rays by avoiding tanning beds all together. (After all, folks, there’s a plethora of great self-tanners out there on the market.)
The CDC also adds that, if possible, people should avoid direct sun exposure between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If avoidance from the sun is not possible, then sun-seekers should slather on sunscreen that has both UVA and UVB protection and that's of an SPF of 15 or higher. Furthermore, tightly knit clothing, wide brimmed hats and sunglasses should be worn to protect the body.
Additionally, one of the most important preventative measures to take in monitoring the health of the skin includes skin examinations. Even if dermatologists routinely perform exams on patients, the NCI additionally encourages the practice of self-examinations.
When performing a self-exam, conduct it after a bath or shower in front of a full length mirror and in a well-lit room. With the help of a hand-held mirror, scan the body for: new moles, changes in moles, raised and discolored flaky patches, firm bumps and constant sores. Should there be an area of concern, schedule an appointment with a dermatologist immediately.
Bottom line, the skin is the mothership of all other internal organs in the body. In order to protect the body as a whole, routine skin examinations, proper attire, use of SPF and limited sun exposure are all elements of a proactive stance in maintaining healthy skin.