By Frederick Schenk, CaseyGerry – As Published in Living Safer
Over the last few years, I have successfully undergone treatment for skin cancer on several occasions – underscoring the importance of regular skin checks and physician visits.
My personal battles with skin cancer are not uncommon – one in five Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer at some point in their lives. According to recent data published in the Archives of Dermatology, more than 2.5 million people develop more than 3.5 million nonmelonoma skin cancers – including basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma – each year, marking a 300 percent increase in skin cancer cases since 1994. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that melanoma, the third most common skin cancer, is also on the rise – which is especially alarming as it is the most deadly. Thankfully, my two episodes did not involve melanoma. Still, all suspected abnormalities must be evaluated by a qualified physician and any delay in doing so is potentially dangerous.
The vast majority of these common types of skin cancer are caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun and tanning booths. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization have identified UV light as a human carcinogen. Research shows that by damaging the skin’s cellular DNA, excessive UV radiation produces genetic mutations that can cause skin cancer.
But despite the dangers, people continue to bask in the sun unprotected. The latest figures confirm that skin cancer, the world’s most common cancer, is at epidemic proportions. There are more new cases of skin cancer reported each year than the cancers of the breast, prostate, lung and colon combined.
Take Preventative Measures
The good news? Skin cancer, especially nonmelanoma skin cancer, is treatable when caught early — making regular screening critical. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends everyone practice a monthly head-to-toe skin self-examination to detect new or changing growths. Skin cancers found and removed early nearly always curable – and many cancers can be caught with skin exams. The American Cancer Society offers the following tips for self-examination:
- Check face, ears, neck, chest and belly.
- Check underarm areas, both sides of arms, the tops and palms of hands, in between fingers and fingernails.
- Use a hand mirror to look at the bottoms of feet, calves and the backs of thighs, first checking one leg and then the other.
- Use a hand mirror or a wall mirror and hand mirror combination to check buttocks, genital area, lower and upper back and the back of the neck and ears.
- Part hair with comb or hair dryer to check the scalp.
Skin cancers can appear in many shapes and sizes. The Skin Cancer Foundation says to be especially wary of:
- A spot or sore that continues to itch, hurt, crust, scab, erode or bleed
- An open sore that does not heal within two weeks; a skin growth, mole, beauty mark or brown spot that changes color or appears pearly, translucent, tan, brown, black or multicolored; changes in texture; increases in size or thickness; is asymmetrical; is irregular in outline or border; is bigger than 6mm, the size of a pencil eraser; and/or appears after age 21
The American Cancer Society recommends scheduling regular skin checks by a physician and pointing out areas of concern, especially if anything has just appeared or changed. If your doctor suspects skin cancer, he or she will do the proper exams and tests to make a diagnosis.
The Sun is Not Your Friend
Each year more than 3.5 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed – the majority of these are caused by ultraviolent rays from the sun or a tanning booth. Unprotected skin may become damaged by the sun’s dangerous ultraviolent rays in just 15 minutes. For this reason, a fundamental way to prevent skin cancer is to avoid the sun by following some very basic measures, recommended by the American Cancer Society:
- Stay shaded, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Avoid tanning booths — new high-pressure sunlamps actually emit UVR doses as much as 12 times the sun.
- Do not burn. A single sunburn increases your chances of contracting melanoma.
- Cover yourself with clothing such as broad brimmed hats, sunglasses, trousers and long-sleeved shirts.
- Regularly use sunscreen of SPF 20 or higher. Reapply after two hours or after excessive swimming or sweating.
If you plan to be in the sun for a long period of time, use SPF 30 or higher.
- Cover up and use sunscreen even on overcast days – up to eighty percent of UVR penetrates clouds.
Common Risk Factors
Unfortunately, some people – including myself – are simply at higher risk for skin cancer. According the CDC, common risk factors include:
- Fair skin and/or skin that freckles burns easily
- Blue or green eyes
- Blond or red hair
- A history of skin cancer in your family
- Regular sun exposure through work or recreation
- A history of sunburns
- Excessive moles
While skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, it is treatable and preventable.
Protect yourself: slather sunscreen, stay out of the sun, visit your doctor regularly and examine yourself carefully for any skin changes. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) sponsors annual free skin cancer screenings throughout the country.
Ultimately, public awareness and education is best way to reduce skin cancers. For more information, visit The American Cancer Society’s website at www.cancer.org.
Frederick Schenk is a partner with Casey Gerry Schenk Francavilla Blatt & Penfield LLP, a San Diego-based plaintiffs’ law firm.