Regular readers of this blog might be tired of hearing me emphasize the need to slather on a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 every day (even the cloudy ones), but skin cancer rates are still on the rise.
Recent research by the Mayo Clinic indicates that two types of non-melanoma skin cancer increased rather dramatically between 2000 and 2010. During that period, cases of squamous cell carcinoma jumped an incredible 263%, the researchers reported. And basal cell carcinoma increased 145%.
Squamous cells exist all over our body. In our skin, they sit near the surface, protecting the tissue beneath. Squamous cell carcinoma is usually not life-threatening. It tends to grow slowly, but it can grow deep. In those instances, it can injure nerves, blood vessels, and anything else in its path. As the cancer cells pile up, a large tumor can form.
Basal cell carcinoma is currently the most common type of cancer in the world. In the United States alone, more than two million new cases are diagnosed each year.
Like squamous cell carcinoma, it grows slowly, but it can grow deep if left untreated. It appears like a small bump on your skin that can initially be confused for a pimple that refuses to go away. Similarly, squamous cell carcinoma can look like a wart that might bleed if it’s scratched.
With early detection, both types of cancer can almost always be removed before they spread beyond the tumor site. As important as noticing these changes in your skin, and doing something about them, is, I want to turn our attention back to preventing them in the first place.
We’ve come a long way in a relatively brief amount of time. It wasn’t that long ago that tanning beds were mainstream. I believe the great majority now understand that ultraviolet light from the sun or artificial sources causes skin cancer, and that it doesn’t take much exposure for it to happen.
And yet, because skin cancer doesn’t happen overnight, there’s still a slight disconnect between our actions and our awareness. It’s why so many still believe you can safely achieve a “base tan.” (You can’t.) Or head out on a cloudy day without any sunscreen. (Ultraviolet rays penetrate the skin every day, rain or shine.)
You may believe you look better during the summer with a tan, but a tan is skin damage. And that damage could come back to haunt you in the form of skin cancer.
So, protect yourself every time you step outside, even if it’s just for a few minutes on an overcast day. That means liberally applying a – all together now – broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 about 15 minutes before you go out, and then again every couple of hours after that. Also, try to avoid the sun altogether when it’s at its strongest (between 10 AM and 2 PM). If that’s not possible, stick to the shade, and wear sunglasses and sun-protective clothing.
They’re easy, repeatable actions that have a meaningful impact on your life.