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Skin cancer, the most commonly diagnosed form of cancer, affects approximately 5 million people in the United States each year. Last year, the Surgeon General declared skin cancer a major public health concern and proposed action be taken through public awareness, policy changes and more research.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, there are more newly diagnosed skin cancer cases than there are of breast, lung, colon and prostate cancers combined each year. Dr. Jeffrey Sassmannshausen, a board-certified dermatologist from Indiana, explained the frequency of the cases is alarming and he agrees with the Surgeon General calling attention to the risks of skin cancer.
“I look at tanning very similarly to smoking. If we go back 20 years, people smoked and they really did not know about the dangers of smoking,” Sassmannshausen said.
As individuals became more aware of the risk of cancer associated with smoking, less people engaged in it. This same trend of education needs to occur to decrease tanning habits, thus decreasing skin cancer.
“Tanning and smoking both have known to cause and raise the risk of cancer. The difference is skin cancer is highly preventable,” Sassmannshausen said.
Preventing skin cancer is as easy as staying out of the tanning beds and direct sunlight, and using sunscreen properly. Sassmannshausen recommends applying sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 and reapplying numerous times throughout the day to get the most protection. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, nearly 30 million Americans tan inside each year and 2-3 million of those people are teens.
Skin cancer can also occur at any age and to any race, so it is important to protect yourself whenever possible.
“The trouble is that people with dark skin tones may not think they are susceptible, and if a spot begins to develop or change they may not seek help because they are not thinking about cancer. The ABCDEs of melanoma count for all skin types,” Sassmannshausen explained.
The five common ways to distinguish skin cancer and to signal that a dermatologist visit is needed are:
If your mole is not symmetrical, that can be a skin cancer warning sign.
The border of a cancerous mole will be uneven and rough.
Melanomas can have multiple shades and colors, while benign moles are typically one shade.
The larger your mole, the more likely it is that you have melanoma.
If your mole begins to change color, size or shape, that is a warning sign for cancer.
“The earlier we find the skin cancer, the less invasive it is going to be, our treatment is going to be easier and it is going to leave a lot less scarring,” Dr. Sassmannshausen said.
Visiting a dermatologist annually should be common practice in order to catch skin cancer before it advances or spreads. If left untreated, melanoma (the most aggressive type of skin cancer that kills nearly 10,000 Americans each year) can become deadly and basal cell carcinoma (the most common type of skin cancer, affecting 3.5 million Americans) can lead to disfiguring surgeries. For people who are living with advanced forms of melanoma or advanced basal cell carcinoma, there are treatment options available.
“If you do not do something to fix it, skin cancer can be deadly. The trouble is, you never know how fast that cancer is going to move and kill you. You can have a tiny little dot that is only millimeters big and it can spread right away. You can have a very large cancer that is slow growing and you won’t have problems with it for decades,” Sassmannshausen explained.
Avoid unnecessary and preventable skin cancer by being smart in the sun. Skip the tanning beds and try a spray-on tan instead. Take heed of the Surgeon General’s warning and recognize the risks, warning signs and treatment options for skin cancer.
Skin Cancer Facts. Skin Cancer Foundation. http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/skin-cancer-facts
Surgeon General Calls for Action to Prevent Skin Cancer. American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/news/news/surgeon-genera-lcalls-for-action-to-prevent-skin-cancer
What is Melanoma? Skin Cancer Foundation. http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/melanoma#panel1-5
The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer. SurgeonGeneral.gov. http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/calls/prevent-skin-cancer/exec-summary.html
Reviewed August 4, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith