Courtesy, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. The two most common types of skin cancer- basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas- are highly curable but can be disfiguring and costly to treat.Melanoma, the third most common skin cancer, is more dangerous and causes the most deaths. The majority of these three types of skin cancer are caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) light.
Ultraviolet (UV) Light
Ultraviolet (UV) rays are an invisible kind of radiation that comes from the sun, tanning beds, and sunlamps. UV rays can penetrate and change skin cells.
The three types ofUV rays are ultraviolet A (UVA), ultraviolet B (UVB), and ultraviolet C (UVC):
• More UVA rays reach the earth’s surface than tbc other types of UV rays. UVA rays can reach deep into human skin, UVA rays can damage connective tissue and the skin’s DNA.
• Most UVB rays are absorbed by the ozone layer, so fewer of them reach the earth’s surface compared to UVA rays. UVB rays, which help produce vitamin D in the skin, don’t reach as far into the skin as UVA rays, but they can still cause sunburn and damage DNA.
• UVC rays are very dangerous, but they are absorbed completely by the ozone layer and do not reach the earth ‘s surface.
Ln addition to causing sunburn, too much exposure to UV rays can change skin texture, cause the skin to age prematurely, and can lead to skin cancer. UV rays also have been linked to eye conditions such as cataracts.
The National Weather Service and the Environmental Protection Agency developed the UV IndexExternal to forecast the risk of overexposure to UV rays. It lets you know how much caution you should take when spending time outdoors.
The UV Index predicts exposure levels on a 0 to 15 scale; higher levels indicate a higher risk of overexposure. If the UV index is 3 or higher, sun protection is needed. Calculated on a next-day basis for dozens of cities across the United States, the UV Index takes into account clouds and other local conditions that affect the amount of UV rays reaching the ground.
Who is at risk?
Anyone can get skin cancer, but people with certain characteristics are at greater risk:
• A lighter natural skin color.
• Skin that burns, freckles, reddens easily, or becomes painful in the sun.
• Blue or green eyes.
• Blond or red hair.
• Certain types and a large number of moles.
• A family history of skin cancer.
• A personal history of skin cancer.
Exposure to UV Rays
Regardless of whether you have any of the risk factors listed above, reducing your exposure to UV can help keep your skin healthy and lower your chances of getting skin cancer in the future. Most people get at least some UV exposure from the sun when they spend time outdoors. Making sun protection an everyday habit will help you to enjoy the outdoors safely, avoid getting a sunburn, and lower your skin cancer risk.
Indoor tanning (using a tanning bed, booth, sunbed, or sunlamp to get tan) exposes users to high levels of UV radiation for the purpose of getting a tan. When UV rays reach the skin’s inner layer, the skin makes more melanin. Melanin is the pigment that colors the skin. It moves toward the outer layers of the skin and becomes visible as a tan.
A tan does not indicate good health. A tan is your skin’s response to injury, because skin cells signal that they have been hurt by UV rays by producing more pigment. Any change in skin color after UV exposure (whether it is a tan or a burn) is a sign of injury, not health.
Over time, too much exposure to UV rays can cause skin cancers including melanoma (the deadliest type of skin cancer), basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma. UV exposure can also cause cataracts and cancers of the eye (ocular melanoma). Every time you tan, you increase your risk of getting skin cancer.
Identifying skin cancer
A change in your skin is the most common sign of skin cancer. This could be a new growth, a sore that doesn’t heal, or a change in a mole. Not all skin cancers look the same.
A simple way to remember the signs of melanoma is to remember the A-B-C-D-Es of melanoma:
• “A” stands for asymmetrical. Does the mole or spot have an irregular shape with two parts that look very different?
• “B” stands for border. Is the border irregular or jagged?
• “C” is for color. Is the color uneven?
• “D” is for diameter. Is the mole or spot larger than the size of a pea?
• “E” is for evolving. Has the mole or spot changed during the past few weeks or months?
Talk to your doctor if you notice changes in your skin such as a new growth, a sore that doesn’t heal, a change in an old growth, or any of the A-B-C-
D-Es of melanoma.