Update on Skin Cancer

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Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States.  More than 1 million new cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed this year in the U.S. and an estimated 9,800 people will die.  More than 77 percent of these deaths will be from melanoma, a particularly aggressive form of skin cancer.

Unfortunately, there still exists the myth that people with naturally dark skin can’t get skin cancer.  This is simply not true!  Anyone can get skin cancer.  People with darker skin have more melanin, a brownish pigment that serves as a buffer against harmful UV rays; however, while having more melanin lowers the risk of developing skin cancer, it does not eliminate it.

The converse is also true.  Redheads, blondes and other fair-skinned individuals are more likely to get skin cancer.  Redheads and blondes have a two-fold to four-fold greater risk of developing skin cancer in their lifetime.

Many people also mistakenly believe that if you try to avoid exposure to the sun, you will never get skin cancer.  Even though there is a strong link between exposure to the sunlight and skin cancer, you can still get skin cancer even if you avoid the sun.  Skin cancer can develop anywhere on the body, even places that are not exposed to the sun, such as the soles of your feet.  Therefore, regardless of how much sun exposure you get, it’s important to regularly examine your skin for signs of cancer.

Skin Cancer prevention must begin early.  Sun burns can do permanent damage to a child’s skin.  Excessive sun exposure in the first 10-18 years of life increases your chances of developing skin cancer as an adult.  In addition, the more moles you have at birth, the greater your risk of developing skin cancer as an adult.  While most moles develop after birth, some people are born with them. “Birth moles” increase a person’s risk for skin cancer.

Always remember to use sun-screen on you and your kids everyday for maximum protection against UVa and UVb rays; and re-apply often!  Check your skin frequently for any change in moles or new lesions, or have your dermatologist assess you with annual check-ups. Notify your physicians of any moles on palms or soles of your feet.  Wear sunglasses to prevent over-exposure of harmful rays to eyes that could lead to eye conditions or injury.

For more information on skin cancer prevention, call Donna McMickens, LPN at Alexandria Eye and Laser Center at (318) 487-2020.