To most people, skin cancer is a scary diagnosis they don’t see happening to themselves. Unfortunately, skin cancer is incredibly common, and you’re a lot more likely to detect and treat it in the future if you’re aware of how it appears and what causes it.
As you may already know, the sun is the primary cause of skin cancer. Light from the sun is composed of ultraviolet radiation which can penetrate the skin and damage its cells. There are three types of UV light that the sun emits: UVA, UVB and UVC. UVA light is low intensity, and is not the main cause of skin cancer. That doesn’t mean that sustained exposure to and damage from UVA light can’t lead to skin cancer, however. UVC light is the most dangerous form of UV light, but thankfully it’s high energy and doesn’t make it through the earth’s atmosphere. Some artificial lights can generate UVC light, however, which is what makes indoor tanning so dangerous. UVB light is the main culprit for sun damage and eventually skin cancer, and it’s plentiful in sunlight.
Sun damage is characterized by a sunburn or tan, on the surface. But it goes much deeper than that. As damaged skin cells attempt to rebuild themselves, they may mutate. This mutation is where skin cancer begins. Mutated skin cells can replicate rapidly and become cancerous. While there’s no telling which sunburn you experienced is responsible for future skin cancer, it does, in a sense, come down to that accumulation. The fewer instances of sun damage, severe or otherwise, that a person experiences, the less likely they are to have skin cancer later in life.
Skin cancer manifests in a variety of different shapes, sizes and textures. Melanoma, the most deadly and fast-moving form of skin cancer, usually appears as a mole-like lesion. Squamous cell carcinoma, or SCC, is often preceded by actinic keratosis. While actinic keratoses can technically develop into any type of skin cancer, these signs of sun damage generally become SCC. Squamous cell carcinoma and actinic keratosis generally appear as red, brown or ‘invisible’ lesions on the skin, in areas like the hands, head and face. The affected skin is generally rough to the touch and dry, which is sometimes the only giveaway in the event that skin doesn’t discolor. Many people have multiple AKs appear at once or in a short span of time, and roughly 10% of AKs will become cancerous if left untreated.
You may not think of skin cancer as a lethal form of cancer, but that’s only because so many people detect it early. Internal forms of cancer often don’t show themselves as early, since you can’t see their symptoms physically, and that’s why they’re often considered more dangerous. But skin cancer, regardless of type, can spread to other parts of the body and become inoperable or destroy your internal organs. Take changes to your skin seriously, schedule regular skin checks with your dermatologist and perform them on yourself. Know what to look for and make sure that skin cancer stays preventable.
Though it’s rare for people younger than 40 to develop skin cancer, it can absolutely happen. And since we know that sustained, lifetime sun damage is the main cause of skin cancer, we should be looking to prevent it as soon as we’re old enough to take care of ourselves on our own. Sunscreen and UV-protective clothing are crucial in the summer months especially, but keep in mind that the sun doesn’t go away in the fall through the spring. Sunscreen should be worn year-round. Do not tan. Spend as little time in direct sunlight as possible. You can still have fun in the sun, but if you do it responsibly for your lifetime, you’re going to be better off.
Skin cancer doesn’t have to be this terrifying, unknown thing that keeps you from experiencing your life to the fullest. With that said, it is something you should be aware of, and that awareness can keep your skin safe. If you’ve got questions or concerns about your skin’s health, or want to schedule a routine skin check, call Northeast Dermatology Associates and get more information today.
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