Did you know that May is Skin Cancer Awareness month? According to the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention, there are more than 3.5 million new cases of skin cancer diagnosed and 2.2 million people treated for it in the U.S. each year. In fact, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer found in the United States.
Researchers believe cancers are caused by a combination of environmental and genetic factors. While the environment certainly plays a significant role in causing many skin cancers, it is also true that individuals can be born with a genetic predisposition toward getting skin cancer. If you inherit light-colored skin from your parents, your risk of developing skin cancer is increased. Those with light skin that freckles easily and light-colored eyes with red or blonde hair are at greater risk than those with darker coloring. This is because light colored-skin absorbs more ultraviolet light; this UV radiation is believed to be a main factor in the development of skin cancer. Additionally, about 5 to 10 percent of all cases of melanoma are inherited. Parents who have the genetic mutation that causes hereditary melanoma have a 50/50 chance of passing on their susceptibility to melanoma to each of their children.
According to the Colorado Department of Public Health, the incidence of melanoma in Colorado is nearly 30% higher than the overall U.S. rate and continues to rise.
Research shows that skin cancer is related to lifetime exposure to UV radiation, therefore most skin cancers appear after age 50. The sun’s damaging effects however, begin at an early age. People who live in geographical areas known for high levels of UV radiation exposure are more likely to develop skin cancer. For example, the highest rates of skin cancer are found in South Africa and Australia, areas that receive high amounts of UV radiation.
According to the Colorado EPA, about 117 people in Colorado die of melanoma every year.
What can you do to decrease your risk of developing skin cancer?
Protect yourself from the sun, wear sun protection regularly and steer clear of the most intense hours of sunlight. Of course absolutely no tanning beds allowed!
It is also important to recognize warning signs of skin cancer, as early as you can. Schedule exams with your doctor on a regular basis and do a self examination about once a month. Look for moles or birthmarks that change in size, color, shape or sensation. Know the basic “A B C D’s of melanoma. “A” Asymmetry in the shape of a skin lesion, “B” an irregular Border to a mole, “C” irregular or variegated Color in a skin lesion, and “D” a Diameter greater than that of a pencil eraser or approximately 6 mm’s should be checked out. Chronically, dry flaky spots, ulcers or sores that do not heal or areas of skin irritation that fester should be evaluated.
May is Skin Cancer Awareness month. Visit Cancer.Gov to stay informed on how you can help prevent skin cancer.