Skin cancer rates in the US have increased by around 600% since 1950. Melanoma (the most deadly form of skin cancer), accounts for around 3% of all skin cancer types, resulting in about 8000 deaths per year. This rise is largely attributed to environmental factors, and increased exposure to UV light. Consequently, skin cancer has become the most common form of cancer for young people.
Luckily, skin cancer is easy to prevent, and is highly treatable if caught early. This article helps to shed some light on how to prevent and detect skin cancer, debunking the various myths about it’s causes, and identifying the early symptoms.
The first step to identifying melanoma is to look at any existing moles you may have. Moles are growths on the skin that are usually brown or black. Moles can appear anywhere on the skin, alone or in groups.
Most moles appear in early childhood and during the first 30 years of a person’s life. It is normal to have between 10-40 moles by adulthood. As the years pass, moles usually change slowly, becoming raised and/or changing color. Often, hairs develop on the mole. Some moles may not change at all, while others may slowly disappear over time.
The graph below helps to identify whether a mole may be cancerous or not, pay attention to the symmetry, border, color, and size of each mole, and whether it has changed in appearance over time.
There are a number of ways to prevent skin cancer altogether, following these simple steps can massively reduce your chances of developing the disease.
1) Wear sunscreen of at least SPF 50
Sunscreen is essential in preventing skin cancer. Dermatologists recommend using a sunscreen of at least SPF 50, anything below this can massively compromise your skin safety. The benefits of wearing sunscreen are many, not only will it reduce your chances of getting skin cancer, but it will also protect you against sunburn, and moisturize your skin. Many sunscreens contain Vitamin E, which not only helps to block out UV rays, but also provides anti-oxidant and anti-aging effects, improving the health of your skin drastically.
2) Reapply sunscreen every two hours or so
Be very liberal when applying sunscreen, ensure that it is regularly added, and applied to every part of the body, including the face, shoulders, arms, back, neck, legs and feet. Don’t be fooled into thinking that certain parts of your body won’t be affected by the sun.
3) Reapply sunscreen after going in the water
Sunscreen loses it’s effectiveness over time and after going in the water. Anything that comes into contact with your skin can reduce the protective effect of sunscreen, so ensure you keep applying sunscreen throughout the day.
4) Wear a hat with a wide brim
Wearing a wide brimmed hat will provide you with additional protection from UV rays on your face and neck. This is especially important if you have little or no hair.
5) Wear long-sleeved clothing
Long-sleeved clothing massively helps to block out UV rays, and can be a great way to help minimize the risk of skin cancer and sunburn. Wearing light, long-sleeved clothing can help to keep you cool and protected, minimizing the chance of overheating, whilst maximizing protection from the sun.
6) Wear sunglasses
Highly tinted sunglasses help to protect your eyes and face from UV rays, and can also help you to see more clearly in the sun without squinting.
7) Check your whole body for moles
Moles can appear anywhere on your body, including between your toes, or even on the soles of your feet. Ensure you check your whole body for raised parts, and use a hand mirror (or enlist a friend) to check parts of your body that are difficult to see. Consult the chart above to see if any such moles are potentially cancerous.
8) Apply suncream regularly in places like New Zealand and Australia
Skin cancer rates tend to be the highest in Ocianian countries like New Zealand and Australia. This is partly due to the hole in the ozone layer, meaning that more fewer UV rays are blocked out. If you are visiting or living in New Zealand, Australia, Tasmania, or anywhere nearby, ensure you are very cautious to limit your sun exposure, and apply plenty of sunscreen.
9) Remember that skin cancer is not always caused by the sun
Skin cancer can develop with little or no exposure to UV rays. It is important to regularly check moles for abnormalities, even if you do not live in a sunny climate. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, so do not assume that you are safe just because you haven’t been out in the sun.
10) Avoid tanning beds
There are many who erroneously believe that sunbeds do not cause skin cancer. The opposite is in fact true; using a sunbed just once a year can triple your chances of getting skin cancer. Consider spray tans as a healthier alternative.
11) Remember that keeping cool or hydrated will not keep you safe
Often splashing in a pool or sitting with a fan will provide us with the comforting illusion that we are not burning. You are actually more likely to burn in water, because -not only does it strip the sunscreen off your skin- but the water reflects more light onto you. Keeping cool and drinking lots of water is definitely a good idea, but it will not protect you from UV rays.
12) Remember that glass does not block out UV rays
There are many rumors that stipulate that glass will protect you from UV rays. This is utterly untrue. Sitting behind a window or under a glass roof does nothing to prevent UV exposure unless it is heavily tinted, and even then the effect is minimal. This is important to remember if you are driving long distances in the sun, or sitting inside next to the window.
13) Remember to apply sunscreen, even when you are skiing
Snow is essentially tiny crystals of reflective ice, these can reflect light upwards and cause you to be exposed to UV rays. In some areas of high altitude, the atmosphere is thinner, meaning that fewer UV rays are blocked out. This means you are even more likely to burn or develop skin cancer than at sea level. Ensure you are covered up adequately, with a balaclava, snow goggles and protective clothing.
14) Remember that sunscreen is not harmful
Many people mistakenly believe that certain sunscreens (containg nanoparticles of zinc or titanium dioxide) can be harmful. Studies carried out by the TGA have shown that the human immune system actually breaks these particles down, and thus, they do not have any harmful effects. If you are still unsure however, simply check the ingredients on the bottle of sunscreen for zinc or titanium dioxide before purchasing.
Featured photo credit: StokPic via stokpic.com