Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer diagnosed in the United States—more common than breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, and colon cancer combined. So what causes these frequently diagnosed skin conditions?
Cancer occurs when the DNA in a particular cell or set of cells becomes faulty or damaged in some way that leads to errors or mutations in the DNA and affects cellular growth, the division of original cells into new cells, and cellular death. Skin cells can be affected at three layers: squamous cells (the skin’s inner lining), basal cells (producers of new skin cells, located just below the squamous cells), and melanocytes (the producers of melanin, a pigment that protects the deeper layers of your skin from the sun and gives your skin its color).
Cancers within the squamous cell and basal cell layers of the skin are often easily treatable if caught early enough, but cancers within the skin’s melanocytes are much more difficult to treat, and can spread more easily to other organs in the body. The difference is great enough that skin cancers are often categorized as melanoma or non-melanoma.
There are a number of prevalent factors thought to contribute greatly to a person’s risk of getting skin cancer. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation has been linked to skin cancer, and is most commonly found in natural sunlight and tanning bed lights. If you live in a sunny climate or work outdoors, you have a higher risk of skin cancer.
If you have a history of severe sunburns—particularly before the age of eighteen, which is said to be a benchmark for about eighty percent of a person’s lifetime sun exposure—or a significant amount of large and abnormally-shaped moles, or both, you are at a higher risk for melanoma.
Exposure to toxic substances and medical conditions that deteriorate the immune system, such as HPV, HIV, AIDS, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, or drugs used after transplants of organs or bone marrow to prevent rejection can also lead to skin cancer. Skin conditions such as solar or actinic keratosis, caused in fair skin by years of sun exposure, or the rare condition known as xeroderma pigmentosum, in which skin cannot repair sun damage, can increase a person’s risk of developing skin cancer.
Increasing age can make you more likely to develop non-melanoma cancer, though younger patients can also develop skin cancer. If you have had skin cancer previously, or have a family history of skin cancer, you could have an increased risk of developing it.
People with freckled or fair skin that becomes sunburned easily have the highest risk of skin cancer, especially if they have red or blond hair and lighter-colored eyes. However, people of all skin types can get skin cancer, even though the risk is significantly lower for darker-skinned individuals.
Steps You Can Take to Reduce Your Chances of Getting Skin Cancer
While you can’t undo sun damage on your skin, you can always take steps to prevent further sun damage. If you can, avoid exposing yourself to direct sunlight as much as possible during the hours of 10:00am to 3:00pm, as that is when UV radiation levels tend to reach their peak.
If you can’t avoid being in the sun, wear sunglasses with total UV protection to protect your eyes, and apply sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 or higher, during a period of at least half-an-hour before exposing yourself to the sun, as well as periodically every hour or so during sun exposure. You can also opt to use contact lenses and cosmetic products that contain UV protection.
Make sure to familiarize yourself with the existing moles and other growths on your body through regular self-examinations of your skin. If you notice any new growths or changes in your current growths, you may wish to seek out a medical professional.
Finally, you can also protect your children from the effects of sun exposure (which again, primarily occurs before the age of eighteen) by teaching them about skincare and how to protect themselves from the sun via regular sunscreen application, limiting sun exposure, wearing UV protection products, and more.
Have More Questions about Skin Cancer? Consult the Experts at Skin and Vein
If you have questions or concerns about your skin, contact our office today to schedule your consultation appointment with one of our dedicated skin specialists.