Submitted by Doug Leone, MD, and Adrienne Schupbach, MD, Dermatology and Mohs Surgery Institute
Most people are aware of skin cancer. They know that it’s the most common cancer in the United States. They know that melanoma can be deadly and other types can be disfiguring. They know that it’s important to protect the skin from the sun. They know that fair-skinned people are more susceptible to getting skin cancer. Read on to learn about some lesser known facts about skin cancer that just may save your life.
Any spot or bump could be a sign of skin cancer — not just moles. While a change in a mole is one of the most common signs of skin cancer, the truth is that there isn’t just one type of mark that indicates cancer. The average person has no idea what skin cancer looks like. There is no need to panic and think that every spot on your skin is a sign of cancer. Any mark that is new, seems different, or is changing should be checked out by a dermatologist.
Skin cancer occurs in all skin types — even African American. Fair-skinned individuals are more likely to develop cancer than those with darker skin, but darker skin is still susceptible to the damaging effects of the sun. Furthermore, when people with darker skin do develop skin cancer, it is frequently discovered at a more advanced stage and is therefore more difficult to treat. Some readers may recall that Jamaican singer Bob Marley, who was instrumental in popularizing reggae music around the world, died at age 36 from melanoma found on his toe. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, the highest increase in skin cancer is among the Hispanic population. This may be due to the misconception that people with darker skin do not need to protect themselves from sun exposure.
Skin cancer occurs in all ages — not just older adults. Skin cancer is more common among older adults, with the average age of diagnosis being 63. This is because the effects of sun damage are cumulative. Dermatologists are seeing an increase in skin cancer among young people, especially young women. This may be in part because there is greater awareness of skin cancer, and therefore, more young people are paying attention to the early signs. However, melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, is one of the most common cancers in people younger than 30.
Skin cancer can occur in parts of the body where the sun literally never shines. Sun exposure is the most common cause of skin cancer, but it’s not the only cause. Skin cancer can occur on parts of the body like the arm pits, buttocks, in-between toes, and the genital area. This could be because there is a genetic component to skin cancer. So, if there is a family history of skin cancer, that may increase your risk as well. Air pollution and environmental factors may also cause cell damage that may lead to skin cancer. It’s no surprise that when skin cancer does occur in these “hidden” places, it is more often discovered at a more advanced stage.
Use sunscreen all year round — even in the winter. Snow and ice nearly double your UV exposure — the UV light hits you on its way down from the sun, then again on its way back up to you as it bounces off the snow. Even those cold, gray, overcast days can pose risk, with between 50 and 80 percent of UV rays penetrating through the clouds. The Skin Cancer Foundation reports that 50 percent of UVA radiation can penetrate through glass, and car windows alone can let in more than 60 percent of these harmful rays. It’s therefore possible to accumulate sun damage even by riding in a vehicle or sitting near a window.
Skin cancer doesn’t just happen to “other people.” It can strike anyone, at any age, on any part of the body. What everyone needs to know is that skin cancer is largely preventable, and very curable when found in the earliest stages. In addition to protecting your skin from the harmful rays of the sun, get a skin check every year by a dermatologist and do your own self-check once a month.
For more information or to schedule an appointment, you may contact the Dermatology and Mohs Surgery Institute at 309-451-DERM (3376) or www.dermatologistbloomington.com. Dr. Leone and Dr. Schupbach, both residents of Bloomington, are board-certified dermatologists, specializing in medical and cosmetic dermatology, including the treatment of skin cancer, moles, acne, rashes, warts, and all skin disorders. Dr. Leone is one of the few Mohs-trained surgeons in the area. Their practice, is located at 3024 E. Empire St. 2nd floor (in the Advocate BroMenn outpatient center).Back to Top
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