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Know Your Risk, Take Precautions to Avoid the Most Common Cancer
Summer is just around the corner, bringing with it plans for leisurely walks on the beach and long days on the lakes, but before you plan a visit to the tanning salon to get that glowing sun-kissed look, read this article.
Under breezy summer skies, it's easy to forget that seemingly harmless sun exposure can cause skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States.
“More than 2 million people will be diagnosed in the United States this year. Of those, the American Cancer Society predicts that nearly 77,000 cases will be the deadliest type, called melanoma,” explains Donna Wood, Practice Leader of Clinical Operations at Quorum Health Resources (QHR). “More than 9,000 Americans are expected to die from this form of skin cancer in 2012.”
To raise awareness of skin cancer prevention and the importance of early detection, May has been designated Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month by the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).
The three most common skin cancers Americans develop are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. The AAD advises that you should see a dermatologist if a mole or other skin spot is growing, changing shape, bleeding or itching.
"All of these can be signs of skin cancer. Skin cancers can look different from person to person, so you need a medical evaluation from a healthcare provider to ensure proper diagnosis," says Bill Head, PA-C at Penobscot Valley Hospital. "It's important to be aware of these signs, because most skin cancers are highly curable if caught early and treated appropriately."
Several factors are key when assessing your risk for skin cancer. There's a genetic link, so find out if close family members have had skin cancer. Light-skinned people are more likely to develop skin cancer, although all skin types can be affected. And exposure to invisible ultraviolet rays can cause cell changes that lead to skin cancer. This exposure can occur naturally from the sun or artificially from tanning beds or lamps.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that ultraviolet light causes 65 percent or more of melanoma. About 90 percent of other types of skin cancers are linked to this exposure. Additional skin cancer risk factors cited by the CDC are:
·Personal history of skin cancer
·History of sunburns early in life
·Skin that burns, freckles, reddens easily or becomes painful in the sun
·Blue or green eyes
·Blond or red hair
·Certain types of moles
One alarming trend is the rise in melanoma among young people aged 18 to 39. The Skin Cancer Foundation cites a recent study that shows this potentially deadly form of skin cancer has grown by 800 percent among young women and 400 percent among young men since the 1970s. While lifetime risk of melanoma usually is higher for males than females, the pattern seems to be reversed in this younger population.
The study authors point to indoor ultraviolet tanning as a potential explanation for this trend. More females use indoor tanning, which is linked to much higher rates of developing melanoma, as well as less threatening skin cancers. The good news is that while melanoma incidence is rising among young people, death from the disease is decreasing due to early diagnosis and treatment.
The study also finds that people using indoor ultraviolet (UV) tanning machines are 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma than those who have never used tanning machines. Those who tan indoors just four times a year increase their risk of developing melanoma by 11 percent.
Health advocates and agencies have developed guidelines and other information tools to encourage safe sun exposure from youth through adulthood. People of all ages are advised to stay out of the hottest mid-day sun, if possible, and to realize that exposure in any season can be harmful. Here are other helpful protection tips:
·Seek out shade, especially during the mid-day hours
·Wear clothing that protects skin from sun exposure
·Use a wide-brimmed hat to shade the face, head, ears and neck
·Wear wrap-around sunglasses that block 100 percent of both types of harmful ultraviolet rays, UVA and UVB
·Use sunscreen with a protective factor (SPF) of 15 or higher with both UVA and UVB protection
·Do not use indoor tanning facilities
Americans are sun-lovers who spend a great deal of time outdoors. This enjoyment doesn't have to be dimmed by the threat of skin cancer. By taking precautions to protect yourself from sun exposure and checking regularly for the signs of skin cancer, you can greatly reduce the threat of this common malady.
For more information on the American Academy of Dermatology's efforts to promote skin cancer detection and prevention, go to www.melanomamonday.org.
Click here for a document to help you assess and track the moles on your body.
This article provided courtesy of Penobscot Valley Hospital and Quorum Health Resources (QHR).