Not-so-fun in the sun
Soaking up the sun can lead to permanent damage down the road
May is National Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month. The month is dedicated to increasing public awareness of the importance of skin cancer prevention, early detection and treatment.
Cancer of the skin is the most common cancer, and an estimated 7,400 people will die of the disease in the U.S. this year. When cancer forms in cells that make pigment, it is called melanoma.
When cancer forms in cells that do not make pigment, it may begin in basal cells (small, round cells in the base of the outer layer of skin) or in squamous cells (flat cells that form the surface of the skin).
Although death rates from basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas are low, these cancers can cause considerable damage and disfigurement if they are untreated. When detected early, however, approximately 95 percent of these carcinomas can be cured.
Both types of skin cancer usually occur in skin that has been exposed to sunlight, such as the skin on the face, neck, hands and arms. Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer and results in the greatest number of deaths, even though it represents only 4 percent of skin cancer cases. Once developed, melanoma can spread quickly throughout the body.
An estimated 840 people were diagnosed with melanoma in Alabama in 2004. The rate of new melanoma cases in Alabama increased 23 percent between 1996 and 2002, and melanoma rates in the state are slightly higher than in the nation.
Melanoma is primarily a disease of white non-Hispanic men and women. White non-Hispanic men have a rate of 23.0 per 100,000 people versus a rate of 1.0 for black non-Hispanic men. White non-Hispanic women in Alabama have a melanoma rate of 14.9 per 100,000 people and black non-Hispanic women have a rate of 0.8.
According to the National Cancer Institute, individuals' risk of melanoma increases with time spent outdoors, especially in high-sunlight areas. Researchers have shown that individual risk of melanoma is associated with the intensity of sunlight that a person receives over a lifetime. Published in the journal Cancer Research, the study also indicates that the risk for melanoma for non-Hispanic whites increases with increased time outdoors – even for men and women who can develop a deep tan. The risk of melanoma is greatest for people who develop little or no tan, but the scientists found that where people live as both children and adults and how much UVB shines in those places are important factors – regardless of tanning ability.
Melanomas often start as small, mole-like growths that increase in size and change color.
Basal and squamous cell skin cancers often take the form of a pale, wax-like, pearly nodule or a red, scaly, sharply outlined patch.
The American Cancer Society recommends that adults practice skin self examination regularly to find skin changes early. A health professional should evaluate any suspicious lesions. .
To decrease your changes of getting skin cancer, follow these sun safety recommendations: