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Summer and Skin Cancer

Sun and Skin Cancer

By Holly Vitchers


Summer is quickly approaching and with it come vacations at the beach, weekends at the pool or lake, outdoor sports such as kayaking, tennis, biking, and, of course, barbecues galore. All of these activities have one common denominator – they require being outside in the sunshine. Along with this sunshine comes a hidden danger: UV rays. These rays, if not protected against, can damage your skin and lead to many types of skin cancer.

Drs. Marina and Richard Buckley of Cosmetic Dermatology Pocono Medical Care in Milford, PA have a few insights and tips for avoiding and recognizing skin cancers at an early stage.

What causes skin cancer?

Frequent or excessive sun exposure results in the skin receiving levels of UV radiation that it cannot protect against. These UV rays damage DNA in the nucleus of the skin cells and normal cells may mutate into cancerous cells. For example, it has been found that sun induced mutations are present in over 90% of all Basal Cell Carcinomas.

Fortunately, the skin has a repair mechanism that is constantly trying to repair the DNA, however, occasionally the damage cannot be repaired or a mistake is made during the repair process and the result is a mutation which can be cancerous. Additionally, UV radiation suppresses the immune systems’ ability to fight skin cancer.

Sun exposure is dangerous and puts you at an increased risk of developing skin cancer. People with fair skin (e.g. blue or green eyes, blond or red hair) have especially sensitive skin. There are many instances of people who remember getting one significant burn at the beach 30 or 40 years ago and now they have lots of skin cancers.

What does skin cancer look like?

The two most common skin cancers are Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) and Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC). These cancers tend to start out subtly and generally, if caught early, SCC and BCC can be easily cured.

BCCs, the most common form of skin cancer, are often found on the face, especially the nose, cheeks and forehead. They tend to range from ¼ inch to a number of inches in diameter. One can often notice a pearlescent, raised up outer edge with a depressed scabbed center, much like an ulceration.

SCC, the second most common form of skin cancer, usually starts as a small patch of pink skin, which may be a little scaly. It may be as small as ¼ inch or it can be inches in size. Areas most often affected are those that see the sun, such as the face, neck, back chest, arms and legs. Often people notice a scaly surface, which they mistake for a scrape. This scale may fall off and for a little while one might imagine that the area is better. However, the pink area doesn’t go away. The edges of an SCC are usually irregular.

How can you avoid getting skin cancers?

Prevention of skin cancers depends on preventing the genetic mutations that lead to the cancer. We know that sun exposure leads to DNA breakage and increases the chance of mutations. Therefore, avoid sun exposure, especially during the brightest part of the day (between 11 am and 3 pm). You don’t even have to see reddened skin in order to be sustaining damage from the sun’s rays. Cover exposed areas of the skin when you are outside and use skin care products with high levels of SPF (such as 30 and up). Another important key to the prevention of skin cancer is screening. This should be a combination of careful self-examination and getting your skin checked for precancerous or suspicious areas by a physician who is experienced in the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancers. In this way, if something requiring attention is discovered, you can receive early, simple treatment.

May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, so be prepared for a summer of fun in the sun by being sure to take the precautions you need to protect your skin against damage.

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