Melanoma and other skin cancers like squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma are mainly caused by the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun, and from artificial lights, especially tanning beds.
Melanoma usually starts from a mole; the mole changes in size, shape, color, texture and general appearance, and becomes malignant.
Symptoms of other skin cancers include:
• Open, inflamed, slow healing wounds
• Bleeding sores
• Itchy bumps that resemble warts
• Red, brown, or blue-black patch on the skin
• Smooth red spot with an indentation in the center
• A cluster of shiny, firm bumps on the skin
Risk Factors for Skin Cancer
• Family history of skin cancer
• Inherited conditions that prevent the skin from repairing skin damage – xeroderma pigmentosum
• Spending a lot of time outdoors in the sun
• Using tanning sprays or tanning beds
• Advanced age
• Diseases that weaken the immune system like HIV, immune therapy (immunosuppressant drugs) after organ transplant
• Being Caucasian, blonde haired, and with blue or green eyes
• Having excessive number of moles on the body, especially the arms
• Exposure to certain hazardous chemicals like industrial tar, arsenic, paraffin, coal, and certain oils
• HPV and other viral infections
• Exposure to radiation for treatment
• UV light therapy for psoriasis
• Basal cell nevus syndrome
• Smoking – risk for squamous cell carcinoma especially on the lips
Of these, melanoma is the most aggressive – it progresses pretty fast, and can metastasize into lymph nodes, blood vessels and other organs. The other two are more common, however, they are not as dangerous as melanoma; their progression is pretty slow.
As for any type of cancer, the key to battling it is early detection. But when it comes to melanoma, your best bet is prevention.
As the main cause of melanoma is sunlight, it makes sense that you do your best to try and block those harmful rays from penetrating your skin.
Some of the things you can do to shield yourself from the sun are:
• Wear light clothing
• Wear hats – preferably with broad brims when you’re outdoors
• Use sunglasses to protect your eyes
• Use sunscreen lotions
Sunscreen lotions play a very important role in helping you to prevent sunburns, premature aging of the skin, and ward off skin cancer. This is especially important if you spend a lot of time outdoors, or you already have risk factors for skin cancer.
Some people have a misconception that applying sunscreen can hamper the production of Vitamin D in your body – which is produced when your skin is exposed to the sun. Vitamin D is essential for the healthy maintenance of bones. You can always take Vitamin D supplements, eat foods rich in Vitamin D, and get moderate sun exposure. However, there are some dos and don’ts when it comes to using sunscreens.
• Use a sunscreen every day, even if you think it is cloudy
• Apply about an ounce of sunscreen, 20-30 minutes before you go out in the sun
• Purchase a broad spectrum sunscreen that will offer protection against both UVA and UVB rays
• Choose a sunscreen lotion with a Sun Protection Factor of at least 30
• If you have fair or sensitive skin, take photo-sensitizing medications, or have a history of skin cancer, you may need a sunscreen with a higher SPF
• If your skin is sensitive to chemicals, look for an organic sunscreen without parabens and other harsh chemicals
• If you are going to the beach or any water body, make sure your lotion is water resistant
• Touch up your sunscreen protection by reapplying every two hours
• Limit the time you’re outdoors between 10 am and 4 pm
• Sunscreen is not the same as sun block; sunscreen will filter out the UV rays and allow the sun to reach your skin, whereas, a sunblock will not allow any sun to penetrate your skin.
Regardless of all the safe sun practices you follow – keeping away from the sun, appropriate sunscreens, avoiding tanning beds, sunglasses, etc. – you may still develop skin cancer. This is because many carcinogens are often lurking in the places you work or visit regularly, or you have a genetic predisposition to it. So no method is a 100% guarantee of preventing skin cancer. That is not to say that you should not even try! All your carefulness could very well result in preventing skin cancer development, or at least putting it off for as long as possible.
To be safe, we recommend regular skin checkups with your physician; the doctor may be able to detect potential skin cancer threats on a thorough examination, and may also order some lab tests to rule out or confirm the suspicions. Regular skin checks can help detect the presence of precancerous conditions, or suspicious melanomas, and you can start the treatment right away. This can help halt or significantly slow down the progression of skin cancer.
If you’d like to consult our physician for a skin checkup, schedule your appointment now.
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Thank you for reading!