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Understanding Skin Cancer and Protecting Yourself from Harmful UV Radiation

Understanding Skin Cancer and Protecting Yourself from Harmful UV Radiation Feb 20, 2024 / by Complete Family Dermatology Team

The sun's warm glow has been a source of joy for many of us. However, it's essential to keep in mind that excessive exposure to UV radiation can lead to the development of skin cancer. The good news is that skin cancer is preventable, and identifying the signs early can save your life. This blog post aims to discuss the primary causes of skin cancer, its different types, and how you can safeguard yourself from it. 

What Causes Skin Cancer?

The primary cause of skin cancer is excessive exposure to UV radiation, primarily from the sun and tanning beds. UVA rays are carcinogenic, and UVB rays cause sunburn, leading to DNA changes and an increased risk of melanoma. Ozone layer depletion further reduces the level of UV protection. Tanning beds are as carcinogenic as tobacco and asbestos, making them a significant threat. Genetic factors and compromised immunity contribute to about 10% of cases.

What Types of Skin Cancer Should I Know?

When it comes to skin cancer, three types make up almost all cases. Skin cancer often starts as a bump, mole, or patch on exposed areas, with Basal-cell (BCC) and Squamous-cell (SCC) being common non-melanoma types. These two types of skin cancers occur more often in people with fair skin, especially those who experienced sunburns in their childhood. On the other hand, Melanoma is rarer but deadlier, causing 77% of skin cancer deaths. It often develops on unexposed skin, such as under the toenails, palms of hands, or groin area.

One easy way to remember some common characteristics of melanoma is to think alphabetically – the ABCDEs of melanoma. ABCDE stands for asymmetry, border, color, diameter and evolving. These are the characteristics of skin damage that doctors look for when diagnosing and classifying melanomas. 

Let's break it down: 

A is for asymmetry. Melanoma tends to have an irregular shape, unlike non-cancerous moles which are typically symmetrical. 

B is for border. Melanoma often has blurry or irregular borders, while non-cancerous moles usually have smooth, well-defined borders. 

C is for color. Melanoma lesions can have multiple colors or shades, whereas benign moles are usually a single color. 

D is for diameter. Melanoma growths are typically larger than 6mm in diameter, which is about the size of a standard pencil. 

E is for evolution. Melanoma often changes over time, whether it's in size, shape, or color. Unlike benign moles, it's not static. 

Regular at-home skin checks using the ABCDE method could help identify any suspicious growth in its early stages.

How is Skin Cancer Diagnosed?

Diagnosis of symptoms typically involves a biopsy, taking a sample of the skin tissue for microscopic examination. Treatment depends on several factors, such as the type, location, size of the tumor, and the patient's general health. BCC and SCC may require minor surgery, while advanced cases need extensive procedures with psychological consequences. The economic burden of skin cancer exceeds $8.1 billion yearly, with protective measures like limiting sun exposure, wearing protective clothing, and avoiding tanning devices being crucial.

Prevention is the Best Medicine

Skin cancer is preventable. Educating ourselves on the risk factors and signs, coupled with taking protective measures, can significantly reduce the odds of developing skin cancer. As temperatures rise and we spend more time outdoors, let's make sunscreen, protective clothing (hats, sunglasses, long-sleeved shirts), and avoiding tanning beds a habit. Always remember the ABCDEs of melanoma, and if you spot any suspicious growth, don't hesitate to reach out to Complete Family Dermatology at (402) 423-1111. It's never too late to start taking care of your skin's health. 

Sources:

https://scholarworks.waldenu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=7845&context=dissertations 

https://www.beaumont.org/conditions/melanoma/abcde's-of-melanoma#:~:text=ABCDE%20stands%20for%20asymmetry%2C%20border,when%20diagnosing%20and%20classifying%20melanomas 

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