Each year, more than five million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the United States. In other words, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the country with one in five Americans developing it by the age of 70. Raising awareness of this issue is crucial to public health. That’s why, every May, the country plays host to the National Skin Cancer Awareness Month. Here’s what you should know about the annual campaign and why it matters.
What Is National Skin Cancer Awareness Month?
In the United States, May is National Skin Cancer Awareness Month. The period offers a prime opportunity for us all to educate ourselves on the various skin cancer types, stages of skin cancer, skin cancer treatment, and overall skin protection. Of course, the campaign also seeks to change people’s behavior, increase sun-safe habits, and save lives in the long run. If you want to get involved, you might consider:
Talking About the “Big See”
The “Big See” campaign encourages people to look out for some of the most common signs of skin cancer. Check your skin for new, changing, or unusual areas. Getting the word out about this campaign could help others protect themselves and is crucial for skin cancer prevention and early detection.
Not only is May the ideal time to educate yourself, but it could also be an opportunity to educate others. Why not share your knowledge of the different types of skin cancer? You could also share information about the signs of skin cancer or skin cancer prevention tips.
Sharing Your Story Online
Have you got a personal tale relating to skin cancer? Sharing your story with the world could help raise awareness and humanize the condition. You can post videos or comments on social media, letting the world know what happened to you. Simple.
Important Statistics About Melanoma and Skin Cancer
- By the age of 70, one in five Americans will have developed skin cancer
- Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States, by far
- The five-year survival rate for melanoma is 99% when detected early
- Around 90% of non-melanoma skin cancers are linked to ultraviolet (UV) ray exposure
- Women are at the greatest risk of non-melanoma skin cancer
- More than a million Americans are currently living with melanoma
- In the past decade, cases of new invasive melanoma diagnosed increased by 47%
- The majority of skin cancer deaths are from melanoma
- Around half of melanoma cases are self-detected
What Are the Different Types of Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer occurs when abnormal cells on the epidermis (i.e., the outer layer of your skin) get out of control. However, there are different types of skin cancer that you can develop. When it comes to skin cancer prevention, you should first understand these types. According to skin cancer specialists at the Skin Cancer Foundation, there are four common types of skin cancer.
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC)
More than four million Americans are diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma (BCC) every year, making it the most common type of skin cancer. The condition happens when the basal cells, in the outermost layer of skin, start to produce growths. These growths are most commonly found in areas of skin that are exposed to the sun. For example, you may find them behind the ears, on the face, neck, scalp, shoulders, and back.
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)
Growths in the squamous cells in the outermost layer of skin result in squamous cell carcinoma. This is the second most common type of skin cancer in the United States, with more than a million cases diagnosed every year. Once again, you are likely to see signs of this skin cancer in areas that have been directly exposed to UV rays from the sun.
Melanocytes are the cells that give your skin its natural color or pigmentation. When these cells develop cancer or growths, it is called melanoma. This type of skin cancer often resembles a mole and can be one too. You might notice a change in color, size, or shape, for example. This is the most dangerous type of skin cancer, especially in advanced skin cancer stages.
Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC)
Finally, Merkel cell carcinoma (MMC) is a rare type of skin cancer. The signs of this type of skin cancer are usually firm lesions or nodules that appear on the skin. They may also be painless. MCC is aggressive and has a high risk of recurrence. For that reason, early detection is essential to skin cancer prevention here.
What Are the Risk Factors of Skin Cancer?
Lifestyle choices and your genetic makeup could both impact your chance of developing skin cancer. When you understand how these factors affect your risk level, you can make positive changes to protect yourself going forward. The more you know about these conditions, the better equipped you are to lower your risk. To help you along the way, the Macmillan Cancer Support identifies the following risk factors of skin cancer:
Ultraviolet (UV) ray exposure
Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays is the most common cause of skin cancer. Getting sunburned or exposing yourself to high levels of these rays could lead to the development of basal cell carcinomas (BCCs) or squamous cell carcinoma (SCCs). Put simply, these common types of skin cancer are usually a direct result of UV rays.
If you have pale skin that tends to redden in the sun, you may be at a higher risk of these cancers. For that reason, protecting your skin when you’re outside is essential. Everyone should practice proper sun safety by wearing sunscreen and protective clothing. Naturally, it’s important to avoid sunbeds too, as they can lead to exposure to harmful UV rays.
Having radiotherapy treatment for another illness could have dangerous ramifications later in life. This type of treatment has been linked to basal cell carcinomas (BCCs) and other types of skin cancer. If you have previously undergone this process, you may need to be extra vigilant when detecting the early signs of skin cancer in later life.
Should you have a lowered immunity, you may find that you have a higher risk level for certain types of skin cancer. Needless to say, there are many different reasons that your immune system could take a hit. Some of the most common causes of this problem include taking immunosuppressants for other conditions, having HIV, and having a type of blood cancer, such as chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL).
Also known as squamous cell carcinoma in situ, Bowen’s disease is an abnormal growth of cells on the outer layer of skin. If you suffer from this condition, you may find that the growth turns into squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs) over a prolonged period. For that reason, it’s important to get a diagnosis and treatment for this illness.
Exposure to chemicals
One of the rarer causes of certain types of skin cancer may be exposure to chemicals. If you work in an industry that uses high volumes of chemicals, you may be at a higher risk of developing skin cancer in the long run. In these instances, it’s important to do all you can to protect yourself. You may want to ask your management team for better protective gear or otherwise lessen your exposure to the chemicals you use.
While most skin cancers are not caused by genetic factors, families that have a certain type of skin may be at higher risk. As we have already discussed, people with fair skin, freckles, and a tendency to redden in the sun may have a higher chance of developing skin cancer. Plus, if you have rare inherited conditions like Gorlin syndrome or xeroderma pigmentosum (XP), you may also have a higher chance of developing skin cancer.
Previously having skin cancer
When you have previously been diagnosed with skin cancer and have undergone skin cancer removal, skin cancer surgery, or other treatment for skin cancer, you should be on the lookout for further skins of the condition. Your doctor will give you advice on how you can protect yourself from developing skin cancer once again. You should keep in mind that you may develop cancer in the same place or a new place on your body. For that reason, it’s vital that you regularly check yourself for any of the symptoms.
How to Check for Skin Cancer
Now that you understand the risk factors of skin cancer, let’s talk about one of the most important things you should be doing. To protect yourself, you need to continuously check for skin cancer. Having a baseline understanding of the signs and digging deeper into your health will help you do just that. Educating yourself should be the first step. Without further ado, here are a couple of ways that you can check for these conditions.
Look for the signs of skin cancer
Early skin cancer detection is essential to your health. The sooner you notice the signs of skin cancer, the better chances you have of effective treatment. Since there are a few different types of skin cancer, there are different symptoms of which you should be aware. According to the experts at the American Cancer Society, the following signs of skin cancer should not be ignored:
Signs of melanoma
- Asymmetric birthmarks and/or moles
- Ragged, notched, or blurred borders of marks
- Color changes in birthmarks and/or moles
- Change in the size and diameter of birthmarks and/or moles
- Evolving shape, color, or size of these marks
Signs of basal cell carcinomas
- Flat, firm areas of pale or yellow skin
- Translucent shiny bumps on your skin that are pink or red
- Blue, brown, or black areas of these bumps
- Raised red patches of skin, which may be itchy
- Open sores that do not heal naturally over time
- Pink growths on the skin that are raised and dip in the middle
Signs of squamous cell carcinomas
- Raised lumps of growths on the skin that may dip in the middle
- Wart-like growths anywhere on the body
- Scaly or rough red patches of skin that may bleed
- Open sores which don’t heal naturally over time
Other concerning symptoms
- Any type of sore that doesn’t heal
- New spots that look different to other spots
- Itchiness or tenderness somewhere on your skin
- Redness or swelling around a mole
- Any significant changes to the surface of a mole
- Color that spreads outward from a spot into your skin
Whenever you notice one of these red flags, you should seek medical attention right away. While one of these possible signs of skin cancer does not indicate that you have the condition, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Speaking to an expert will help you put your mind at rest and find out what the cause is. Be vigilant and keep checking!
Take an at-home DNA test
Worried about developing skin cancer? Understanding the role that your genetics play in this condition is vital. Experts believe that skin cancer is more common in certain families, due to the type of skin relatives share. Moreover, people with rare inherited skin conditions like Gorlin syndrome or xeroderma pigmentosum (XP) may be at a higher risk.
Taking a DNA test at home could help with early skin cancer detection. While some tests cover your risk of different types of cancer, others look at how your skin reacts to sunlight. Let’s take a look at some of the best kits you can get and the information each has on offer.
Featuring a user-friendly website and even an app, the results from 23andMe could not be easier to understand. When you choose the 23andMe Health + Ancestry Service, you get insights into your predisposition of certain conditions, including some types of cancer. Aside from your risk factor for these diseases, you also learn whether you may be a carrier.
The Carrier Status report is extremely enlightening. It offers information on 44 different congenital conditions. That means that you can quickly understand your risk and the risk of passing these health concerns onto any children you may have. Using this information, you can determine how your genetics affect your health.
Offering CLIA-certified tests, you might also want to check out Color. The Color health kit uses population genomics (i.e., statistical risk levels), to determine how your genes affect your wellness. When you choose this test, the final report includes a cancer-specific section. Since a single genetic mutation can increase your risk of cancer, understanding your genes could help you protect yourself as you grow older.
The test covers hereditary cancers, familial cancers, and sporadic cancers. Since skin cancer may be more likely in certain families, you may be able to use this information to determine your risk factor. When you have your results, you can share them with a medical health professional and get some advice on the right next steps for you.
About 90% of nonmelanoma skin cancers are linked to UV rays. With that in mind, understanding how your skin reacts to sun damage could be the key to protecting yourself. The Skin Care DNA Kit from 24Genetics could shed some light on this interesting area. The report covers a wide range of topics when it comes to your skin health, including natural aging and how you react to certain vitamins and minerals.
As part of the report, there’s a section that identifies how your skin reacts to the sun. These findings include your sensitivity to the sun, photo-aging, how easily you tan, and your risk of sunspots. Keep in mind that the scientific backing for this report is lacking. However, you may still be able to use the findings to understand how you can better protect yourself.
Covering 28 of the most common conditions worldwide, the health DNA test from Futura Genetics offers an in-depth report. Aside from other conditions, the report covers a total of eight cancers. Using the results from the test, you can start to make proactive decisions about how you can protect yourself from some of the most common illnesses.
If you’ve already taken a DNA test with 23andMe, you can upload your raw data to Futura Genetics and get a report. What’s more, apart from the information you gain from the reports, you also get some guidelines to help you stay safe. These recommendations will help you lower your risk of developing conditions.
Armed with this wealth of information from at-home DNA tests, you should consult with your doctor right away. A medical professional will be able to use the insights you have received to offer you some solid advice moving forward. Learning about your risk factor and how you can keep safe in the future could be essential to your everyday wellness.
The Big Takeaway
National Skin Cancer Awareness Month reminds us of how important these conditions are. Take this opportunity to learn more about these types of cancers and educate others along the way. Being aware of the signs as well as how you can protect yourself is the key to better health. Get involved today and start spreading the word.
Looking for more information on skin cancer and how you can protect yourself? The following websites can help you answer any outstanding questions: