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June 23, 2021 • read
Skin cancer prevention: How to reduce your risk
Summer is here, and you’re probably itching to spend hours outside. But before you spend long summer days outside soaking up the sun, it’s important to remember those golden rays play a big part in causing the most common form of cancer — skin cancer. And skin cancer isn’t just from exposure to the sun — it can appear in non-sun exposed areas of your body as well. Get ready to stock up on sunscreen and start taking a closer look at those moles and spots on your body with tips to stay on top of caring for your skin, and reducing your risk of skin cancer.
Skin cancer causes and types
Skin cancer is the abnormal growth of skin cells that most often develop on skin that has been exposed to the sun for long periods of time. While 90 percent of skin cancers are caused by UV rays, other risk factors can include fair complexion, the amount of moles on your body, tanning bed use, and a family history of skin cancer. The three most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.
Basal cell carcinoma usually occurs in areas of your body that are exposed to the sun, and can appear as a white or waxy bump, a flat, flesh-coloured or brown scar-like lesion, or a bleeding or scabbing sore that heals, but ultimately returns.
Squamous cell carcinoma also occurs in areas of your body that are exposed to the sun, however, people with darker skin are more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma in areas that have no exposure to the sun. These can appear as firm, red nodules, and flat lesions with a crusted surface.
Melanoma is the form of skin cancer you’ve probably heard most about. Melanoma begins in the cells that control your skin’s pigment. It can develop anywhere in your body — on normal skin, or in an existing mole that becomes cancerous. Melanoma can also occur in skin that hasn’t been exposed to the sun. Signs of melanoma include a large, brown spot with darker speckles, painful, itchy or burning lesions, and a mole that changes in colour, size, or feel, that also bleeds. If you’re one of the lucky ones with many moles on your body, it’s important to get them checked routinely for any irregularities.
Prevention and sun safety
There is a silver lining in all of this, and that is that most skin cancers are preventable. To help reduce your risk of getting skin cancer, these are some easy things you can do.
- Avoid the sun during peak hours, from 11am to 3pm For children, it’s especially important to keep them out of the sun when its rays are the strongest, between 12pm to 2pm.
- For children under one year, avoid direct sun exposure by taking long walks early in the morning or later in the day, and cover them under a large canopy. Babies can wear sunscreen but wearing protective clothing like sun hats and avoiding direct sun exposure is best.
- Adults should wear sunscreen 365 days a year. Make sure it’s at least SPF 30, and reapply it every two hours or less if you’re swimming or sweating. Adults should also wear protective clothing like hats with wide brims (bonus: these just happen to be in fashion right now), and clothing that covers your arms and legs.
- Steer clear of tanning beds. Tanning beds operate with UV lights, which are damaging to your skin, and could lead to skin cancer.
- Keep an eye on your moles, and get them checked often. Detecting a cancerous mole before it spreads gives you the highest rate of survival.
When to get care
If you notice anything on your skin is changing, itching, or bleeding, speak to a dermatologist. If you observe new, rapidly growing moles, or moles that bleed, itch, or change colour, this is often an early warning sign of melanoma, and you should get care from a professional as soon as possible. Early detection could save your life. When melanoma is caught early, the cure rate is over 95%. If melanoma isn’t detected early on and advances to stage four, the cancer spreads to other parts of the body like the lungs, brain, and liver, making it harder to treat. One easy thing you can do is look for the “ABCDE’s” of moles:
A – asymmetrical shape
B – irregular borders
C – multiple colours
D – increasing diameter and darker than other moles
E – elevation
How to get care
If you have many moles on your body, you don’t have to wait to speak to a specialist. You can get a clear picture of your skin with a mole mapping scan from Maple. Offered to those in Toronto, Ontario only at the present time, a mole mapping scan involves safe, advanced technology that takes a full scan of your body. The scan picks up on every skin lesion detail, and identifies skin cancers such as melanoma in its earliest stages.