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Skin Cancer Awareness

Skin Cancer Awareness: Summer Tips

Summer is the season for shorts, sandy beaches, and Frisbees, but it's also the season for sunburns and tans which can lead to long-term skin damage, premature aging, and perhaps most importantly, increased risk of skin cancers. Although awareness of skin cancer has grown in the public sphere, many are still unaware of the basics of skin cancer, which can end up saving their lives.

How common is skin cancer?

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer and has been on the rise in the last for the last several decades. It is thought that several factors such as increased outdoor tanning, ozone depletion, and tanning salons contribute to the increasing incidence of skin cancer.

What causes skin cancer?

It is difficult to pin down the exact causes of skin cancer, or any other disease, but there are several well known risk factors that have a strong causal relation with skin cancer. The most significant risk factor for skin cancer is excessive sun exposure which includes artificial light such as tanning beds. UV light causes DNA damage, increasing the risk of skin cancer. Other risk factors include:

  • Old age-cells repair less efficiently, and more lifetime exposure to UV rays
  • Immunosuppression-weakened ability due to medication or disease
  • Exposure to unusually high doses of radiation
  • People who have had severe sunburns early in life
  • People with a family history of skin cancer
  • People with fair skin who burn easily
  • Light or red hair and blue or green eyes
  • People with a large amount of atypical moles
  • Previous skin cancer patients

How do I prevent skin cancer?

Like most diseases, perfect prevention is not possible or a reasonable goal. In the case of skin cancer, however, lifestyle changes can significantly reduce the chances of developing skin cancer.

  • Minimize sun exposure by avoiding the sun when the light is at its strongest between the hours of 10AM and 4PM. If your shadow is shorter than you, you are receiving direct sunlight.
  • Wear protective clothing. Having a long sleeved and a brimmed hat shirt can provide a lot of protection, shutting out most of the harmful UV rays.
  • Use broad spectrum sunscreens with an SPF of 15 or higher. Broad spectrum means that the sunscreen protects from both UVB and UVA rays.
  • Use the sunscreens on a regular basis, and don't reserve it for special occasions like going to the beach. Sun damage is cumulative and occurs every day.

Can you die from skin cancer?

Yes, certain skin cancers are potentially fatal if they are not found at an early stage and spread to other parts of the body. However, the good news is that the most common type of skin cancer by far, basal cell carcinoma is rarely fatal, and almost all skin cancers have an extremely high cure rate when found at an early stage. Thus, it is important that you be able to identify warning signs of skin cancer effectively so that you can visit a dermatologist if you suspect skin cancer.

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