A couple of years ago, my 88-year-old father was diagnosed with skin cancer. I met with his doctor. A biopsy was completed, the cancer wasn’t malignant and a series of treatments were tried. The treatments didn’t take. The cancer needed to be removed and a skin graph was required to replace the two inch oval area on his right forearm that was to be surgically removed. As an octogenarian my dad doesn’t heal as fast as he once did. However, the cancer was successfully removed, the graph took, and his arm healed.
Are You at Risk?
There is a mistaken belief that only fair skinned people get skin cancer, this isn’t true. Although certain types of skin cancer may be more prevalent in lighter skinned people, any skin type is susceptible to skin cancer. The Skin Cancer Foundation categorizes six skin types from type 1,” You always burn and never tan in the sun. You are extremely susceptible to skin damage as well as cancers like basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.” To type 6, “Although you do not burn, dark-skinned people are still at risk for skin cancers…”
There are other factors that contribute to skin cancer including certain medications, organ transplants, and inherited conditions. Here are some listed by The American Cancer Society
- Have a family history of skin cancer, especially melanoma
- Had skin cancer before
- Have many moles, irregular moles, or large moles
- Have freckles and burn before tanning
- Spend a lot of time outdoors
- Have fair skin, blue or green eyes, or blond, red, or light brown hair
- Live or vacation at high altitudes (the strength of UV rays increases the higher up you are)
- Live or vacation in tropical or subtropical climates
- Work indoors all week and then get intense sun exposure on weekends
- Have certain autoimmune diseases, such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE, or lupus)
High Risk Factors
There are factors that increase your chances on contracting skin cancer such as age. Because the older we get the more sun we’ve been exposed to and the less resistant our skin becomes. Men have double the chance of carrying skin cancer cells, which some experts believe may be due to more outdoor exposure. Chemicals such as arsenic, coal, and tar are known causes of skin cancer as are extensive radiation treatment; severe skin damage such as burn scars increases the chances of contracting skin cancer, as does smoking. Source information from – National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention.
Tanning and Sun Bathing
“Ultraviolet (UV) rays come from the sun or from indoor tanning (using a tanning bed, booth, or sunlamp to get tan). When UV rays reach the skin’s inner layer, the skin makes more melanin. Melanin is the pigment that colors the skin. It moves toward the outer layers of the skin and becomes visible as a tan.
A tan does not indicate good health. A tan is a response to injury, because skin cells signal that they have been hurt by UV rays by producing more pigment.
People burn or tan depending on their skin type, the time of year, and how long they are exposed to UV rays.” — CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention)
How to Reduce the Threat of Skin Cancer
Lowering the threat of skin cancer begins with protection from the sun and UV rays. It also means being aware of subspecialty factors such as skin tone, age, and sex. Reducing exposure to harmful chemicals and radiation are also critical. Here’s a list of preventive measures, Sun protection prevention guidelines.
- Avoid tanning and UV tanning beds.
- Do not burn.
- Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
- Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
- Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
- Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens should be used on babies over 6 months old.
- Examine your skin head-to-toe every month.
- See your physician every year for a professional skin exam.
If you are aware of your exposure, use caution, and take recommended preventative actions, you can substantially lower the threat of skin cancer.