Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer worldwide and is especially rampant in the sunny south. According to The Skin Cancer Foundation, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer, and more than two people die of skin cancer in the U.S. every hour. While anyone can develop skin cancer, there are a few skin cancer risk factors that put some people at a higher risk. Here’s why.
The first and most obvious way to determine whether you’re at a high risk of developing skin cancer is from your personal and family history. If you or someone that you’re blood related to has had any type of skin cancer, you’re automatically at a higher risk of developing it additionally or again. And while people of any race and with any skin tone can develop skin cancer, there are some physical traits that are much more common in those who do. Fair skin, light eyes -- typically green or blue -- and red or blonde hair can all spell out a higher risk of skin cancer since skin tends to burn more easily.
Then there are lifestyle factors. It takes just one severe sunburn to potentially develop skin cancer later in life. This sunburn can even occur in childhood. So if you’ve already gotten at least one sunburn, you’re already at risk. This risk increases with every episode of excess exposure to the sun. Harmful UVA and UVB rays from repeated outside activities, summer vacations, and outdoor sports can all increase your risk of developing skin cancer. Of course, if you’ve ever used a tanning bed or booth, your risk skyrockets. With each repeated exposure to artificial UV light sources, that risk increases.
Finally, there’s the skin cancer risk factor of protection from the sun. If you’ve spent lots of time outside but always worn the appropriate protective layers -- including sunscreen, hat, and long sleeves -- you’re at a much lower risk than someone who has spent time outside with no sun protection. Practically speaking, if you’re older, you’ve been exposed to the sun for more years. Therefore, older people naturally become higher risk patients.
Early detection is absolutely critical to the success of fully, effectively treating skin cancer. Often, if skin cancer goes undetected, it spreads via the lymph system to other systems and organs in the body and can potentially be fatal. So it’s always important that you receive an annual skin cancer screening with a dermatologist beginning in your twenties. If you or a family member have had skin cancer in the past, your doctor may recommend more frequent skin cancer screenings.
The primary method of preventing skin cancer is adequately protecting yourself from the sun’s UV rays. This means wearing at least an SPF 30 every day, regardless of whether you’re indoors most of the day. And if you’re outside -- even if it’s cloudy or overcast -- wear an SPF 50 sunscreen product. Also, make sure you see the term “broad spectrum” on the label, which means the sunscreen will protect against both UVA and UVB rays.
Wear protective layers like long sleeves and a wide-brimmed hat, and stay in the shade when possible. Avoid being outside in peak hours of sunlight, between 10 am and 2 pm. Regularly conduct a self check of the skin, and if you see any new or changing moles or lesions, see a dermatologist as soon as possible for a skin cancer screening.
If you’re in Baton Rouge or the surrounding areas and need a skin cancer screening, contact Louisiana Dermatology Associates today for an appointment with one of our board-certified specialists.