Skin Cancer is one of the most frequently diagnosed cancers for women and men in the United States and is one of the top five most diagnosed – and deadliest - cancers in Northeast Colorado. Nationally, 1 in 5 people will develop skin cancer by age 70.
Skin cancer is generally preventable through relatively simple means, and when caught early, also has a high survival rate. Yet, annually, nearly 9,000 people die nationally from the most common type of skin cancer, melanoma, with Colorado ranking above average in these numbers.
Bluntly put, anyone with skin can get skin cancer. People with lighter natural skin tone and lighter natural hair and eye color are at greater risk, but any skin tone is at risk without practicing simple skin protection methods. And while many people may already be aware that skin moles need to be watched for changes, 70-80% of melanomas arise on what otherwise seems to be normal skin.
Most skin cancers are caused by too much exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun and tanning beds. UV rays can affect you through clouds, as well as reflect off surfaces like cement, water, and snow – so protection of exposed skin is important all year long in all environments.
The best ways to protect your skin and reduce your risks of developing some form of skin cancer include:
Cover your skin! The more skin you cover, the more protection you get, and be sure to include a hat and sunglasses. Even if it is not convenient to wear long sleeves and long pants all the time, cover as much as you can at any given time.
Stay in the shade! Even on a cloudy day, UV rays will reach the ground, so a solid shade provider like an awning or umbrella can protect you from too much exposure, especially during the peak sun intensity time of 10am-4pm.
Sunscreen! Lotions or gels protect exposed skin by chemical or mineral means. Mineral sunscreens that use zinc oxide or titanium dioxide provide a physical barrier and may be more suitable for sensitive skin. It MUST be reapplied throughout the period of sun exposure to be most effective.
None of these methods will work 100% on their own so the best protection is using them all together. Sunscreen should be applied to all exposed skin in a thick layer, and reapplied every 2 hours or after swimming, sweating, or washing – don’t forget the back of your hands and the top of your feet!
Although skin cancer is more common in older adults, children and young adults are still at risk for skin cancer. Children and young adults often spend more time unprotected in the sun. Develop good sun protection habits during your child’s early years by providing them with hats and clothing coverage, helping them apply sunscreen to exposed skin, and encouraging care providers to also be prepared for recess and outdoor activities. Childhood sunburns are painful when they happen but are also another significant risk factor for developing skin cancer later in life.
Early detection is as important in managing skin cancer as any other type of cancer or disease. Unlike other cancers, though, skin cancer develops on the outside and changes are usually visible. When caught early, skin cancers are highly curable, so get to know your skin by checking periodically. Check existing moles for changes to color, shape, size, and the border. Examine your skin head to toe monthly for changes in coloration and texture such as a new or changing growth on the skin, a spot or sore that itches, bleeds, or fails to heal, even a transparent patch of scaly skin that wasn’t there before; if you see anything new, changing, or unusual report it to your health care provider right away. Don’t forget to check your scalp even if you have hair and use a hand mirror for hard to see places.
Spending time outside in the sun working or playing is a huge part of our Colorado lifestyle and can be beneficial for physical and mental health. Take simple measures to reduce your risk for skin cancer and proceed outdoors with confidence.
To learn more about all forms of skin cancer go to www.skincancer.org, and https://medschool.cuanschutz.edu/colorado-cancer-center/for-patients-families/cancers-we-treat/skin-cancer