Skin cancer is the most prevalent of all cancers. It is estimated that approximately 2 million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer each year. The good news is that you can do a lot to protect yourself and your family from skin cancer, or to catch it early enough so that it can be treated effectively.
Anyone can get skin cancer, and several factors can increase your risk. Fair-skinned people who sunburn easily and those with a family history are at a particularly high risk for developing skin cancer. Additionally, continued consistent exposure (tanning all the time) or a rare single significant overexposure, like one bad sunburn, increases risk for skin cancer. Other less common causes of skin cancer include medications which suppress the immune system, repeated medical and industrial X-ray exposure, scarring from diseases or burns, and occupational exposure to compounds such as coal, tar and arsenic.
Some people think about sun protection only when they are spending a day at the lake, beach or pool, but sun exposure adds up day after day, and it happens every time you are in the sun. Simply staying in the shade is one of the best ways to limit your UV exposure. If you are going to be in the sun, slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen, slap on a hat and grab some sunglasses to protect your eyes and the sensitive skin around them.
Begin early use of sun protection in childhood. Children under 6 months of age should not have prolonged sun exposure, but if it is impossible to avoid the sun, use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.
Skin cancers can show up in a variety of shapes and sizes. Be sure to show your doctor any abnormal areas of concern, especially if they have just appeared or have changed recently.
Community cancer education coordinator
Elkhart General Hospital