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Skin cancer: How to protect your skin?

Published Jun 13, 2021 • By Candice Salomé

There are several different types of skin cancer. One well-known and serious is melanoma, which is the most dangerous because it can metastasize. Another type is non-melanoma skin cancer which includes squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma. 

According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States and about 9,500 people are diagnosed every day.

So what are the different types of skin cancer? How can we protect our skin from them?

We tell you everything in our article!

Skin cancer: How to protect your skin?

What is skin cancer?

In terms of surface area, the skin the largest organ in the human body. Its role is to protect the body from infection and ultraviolet (UV) radiation. The skin also helps control body temperature and eliminate organic waste through perspiration. 

It also plays a role in the synthesis of vitamin D and stores water and fat reserves.

However, the skin is fragile and can be affected by cancer. Research shows that cases of melanoma have been increasing each year - in the past decade (2011-2021), the number of new invasive melanoma cases diagnosed annually increased by 44% and non-melanoma skin cancers (NMSC) increased by 77% between 1994 and 2014.In the US, an estimated 5.4 million carcinomas (basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas) and 207,000 melanomas are diagnosed every year. 

This increase can be explained by the change in exposure habits to solar and artificial UV over the last 40 years.  

Indeed, the sun is the first risk factor for developing skin cancer.

There are several types of skin cancer:

Carcinomas

Cutaneous carcinoma is the most common cancer in adults (30% of all cancers) and are also the most frequent of all skin cancers.

Two main types of cancer develop from epidermal cells: squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and basal cell carcinoma (BCC). They differ in their behavior and prognosis:

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC):

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer, with around 3.6 million cases diagnosed in the US each year. It appears mainly on the areas most exposed to the sun: the face and neck in 80% of cases.

The principal sign suggestive of BCC is the appearance or change of a skin growth or the presence of an open sore that does not heal.

BCC can occur in several forms:

  • A non-healing open sore: a basal cell carcinoma may appear as a sore that persists for weeks or that heals and then reoccurs, and may ooze, bleed, or crust over.
  • A nodule or shiny bump: often pearly or clear, pink, red, or white in color (or tan, brown, or black in people with darker skin), this form can often be mistaken for a normal mole.
  • A reddish patch or irritated area: these may appear on the face, chest, shoulders, arms, or legs and may itch, hurt, crust over, or cause no discomfort at all.
  • A scar-like area: the skin will appear taut and shiny and will often have uneven or ill-defined borders. They may be white, yellow, or waxy in color.
  • A small, pinkish growth: this form will develop with a slightly raised and rolled edge, with an indentation in the center that may develop small blood vessels on its surface over time.

This type of cancer rarely spreads throughout the body but can grow in width and depth. The prognosis is rarely life-threatening but it can cause disfigurement or even loss of an organ such as the ear, nose or eye.

Squamous cell carcinomas (SCC):

SCC can occur anywhere on the body, however it is usually found on the areas most exposed to the ultraviolet light (UV): the head, face, neck, shoulders and extremities (arms, legs, back of the hand, etc.).

They can appear as thickened, rough, scaly patches that may bleed or crust over. They can also look like warts or open sores that never fully heal. Occasionally SCC also develops as growths with raised edges and indentations in the center that may itch or bleed. This type of cancer can grow quickly, within a few weeks.

Melanoma

These are cancerous tumors that form from the melanocytes, the cells responsible for skin and eye color. In 90% of cases, they appear on the skin but can sometimes appear in the nose, mouth, sinuses, rectum or genitals. While melanoma is less common than BCC and SCC, representing around 10% of skin cancers, it is nevertheless the most dangerous type of skin cancer because it progresses rapidly. Just over 205,000 cases of melanoma are diagnosed in the US each year.

>> To learn more about melanoma, check out our dedicated article <<

How to prevent skin cancer?

Protect yourself from ultraviolet rays

It is very important to protect your skin from the sun when spending time outside. Clothing with long sleeves and pants are recommended, remembering that polyester protects better from the sun than cotton. Today there is clothing specially designed to offer maximum protection against UV, called sun protective clothing, made of special microfibers.

You should avoid going out without sun protection, especially when the sun is at its peak. When it is cloudy, it is also a good idea to use SPF because the sun's rays pass through the clouds.

Finally, it is important to avoid using tanning beds. Tanning lamps do not prepare the skin against the sun's rays. If you'd still like to get that sun-kissed look without getting out into the sun, opt for a spray tan or an at-home tanning lotion.

Be aware of any change in your skin

Cancer is more treatable when it is detected early. It is essential to seek medical attention right away if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • A mole that changes in shape, color or size
  • A new, suspiciously colored lesion on the skin
  • Development of a lump under or on the skin
  • A skin lesion or wound that does not heal

Be aware of the photosensitizing effect of your medications

Some treatments are photosensitizing, meaning that they increase the skin's sensitivity to ultraviolet rays.

This is the case for certain antibiotics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), certain psychotropic drugs and psoralens (substances that contribute to skin pigmentation).

Some essential oils or herbal products also have a photosensitizing effect.


>> To learn more about photosensitizing medications, check out our article here <<


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