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5 Surprising Facts about Skin Cancer

Blog 5 Surprising Facts about Skin Cancer

Each year there are more new cases of skin cancer diagnosed than breast, prostate, lung and colon cancers combined.


Skin cancer isn’t a summertime problem; it’s a year-round issue that affects one in five Americans over the course of a lifetime, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. In fact, each year there are more new cases of skin cancer diagnosed than breast, prostate, lung and colon cancers combined. Here are some surprising truths about skin cancer.

1. A tan is never healthy.

“People may like the glow they can get from being in the sun, but really a tan is just your body’s response to protecting you from the damages of ultraviolet (UV) light,” explains William Wooden, M.D., a plastic surgeon who specializes in skin cancer with Indiana University Health. In fact, about 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to UV radiation from the sun, and about 86 percent of melanomas (the most deadly form of skin cancer) can be attributed to UV exposure, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. “It’s simple,” says Dr. Wooden. “Increase your exposure to UV light and you increase your risk for skin cancer.”

2. Prime time in the sun isn’t the only danger zone.

We often hear about avoiding sun exposure during the peak hours of 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. But even in the early morning, late afternoon or on cloudy days, UV rays can do their damage. “The UV rays damage your skin’s DNA, which is what can eventually cause skin cancer,” says Dr. Wooden. (It’s also what can lead to signs of aging like wrinkles or sagging skin). “It’s a good idea to use sunscreen all the time, not just in the late morning and early afternoon.” 

3. Sunburns in childhood can increase your cancer risk as an adult.

Experts say even one bad burn (the kind that makes you blister) as a child can boost your melanoma risk as an adult by as much as 50 percent. A recent study which looked at women who had received five or more bad sunburns during the ages of 15 to 20 had an 80 percent increased risk of melanoma and a 68 percent greater risk of two other common skin cancers, known as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. “Children are particularly sensitive so it’s really important to be proactive and make sure they are protected in the sun and when they are in the water,” says Dr. Wooden.     

4. Sunscreen helps, but know that it’s not 100 percent.

A sunscreen that’s labeled SPF 100 isn’t going to block 100 percent of UV rays. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, any broad spectrum SPF of 30 or higher will help provide protection, but only if you use it correctly. SPFs measure the length of time a sunscreen can protect skin from UV rays, so an SPF of 15 will protect your skin about 15 times longer than if you had no sunscreen on. To make sure you’re using it correctly apply about the amount in a shot glass to your whole body and reapply every two hours (more frequently if you’re sweating excessively or in water).  

5. Know your body.

Check yourself regularly for any new or suspicious spots. Examine both your front and back in front of a mirror; bend your elbows and look carefully at your forearms and the back of your upper arms and palms. Also, don’t forget to look at your feet, including the spaces between your toes, the back of your neck and scalp, and even your back and bottom  (using a hand mirror can help).

What you’re looking for: The ABCDEs.

A: Asymmetry (one half of the mole doesn’t match the other)

B: Border irregularity

C: Color that’s not uniform

D: Diameter of greater than 6 mm (about the size of a pencil eraser)

E: Evolving size, shape or color.

Do these exams every six to 12 months, and see your doctor if you have spot anything suspicious (or simply want more peace of mind).

- By Alyssa Shaffer

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