Skin cancer is the most common of all cancer types. More than 2 million skin cancers are diagnosed each year in the United States. That's more than all other cancers combined. The number of skin cancer cases has been going up over the past few decades.
The good news is that you can do a lot to protect yourself and your family from skin cancer, or to catch it early enough so that it can be treated effectively. Most skin cancers are caused by too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays. Much of this exposure comes from the sun, but some may come from man-made sources, such as indoor tanning lamps.
Finding possible skin cancers doesn't require any X-rays or blood tests - just your eyes and a mirror. If skin cancer does develop, finding it early is the best way to ensure it can be treated effectively.
It isn't possible or practical to avoid sunlight completely, and it would be unwise to reduce your level of activity to avoid the outdoors because physical activity is important for good health.
But too much sunlight can be harmful. There are some steps you can take to limit your exposure to UV rays.
Some people think about sun protection only when they spend a day at the lake, beach, or pool. But sun exposure adds up day after day, and it happens every time you are in the sun. "Slip! Slop! Slap! ... and Wrap" is a catch phrase that can help you remember the four key steps you can take to protect yourself from UV rays:
Slip on a shirt.
Slop on sunscreen.
Slap on a hat.
Wrap on sunglasses to protect the eyes and sensitive skin around them.
These steps complement each other, and they provide the best protection when used together.
Many people believe the UV rays of tanning beds are harmless. This is not true. Tanning lamps give out UVA and usually UVB rays as well. Both UVA and UVB rays can cause long-term skin damage, and can contribute to skin cancer. Most skin doctors and health organizations, including the American Cancer Society, recommend not using tanning beds and sunlamps.
The most important warning sign for melanoma is a new spot on the skin or a spot that is changing in size, shape, or color. Another important sign is a spot that looks different from all of the other spots on your skin (known as the ugly duckling sign). If you have any of these warning signs, have your skin checked by a doctor.
The ABCD rule is another guide to the usual signs of melanoma. Be on the lookout and tell your doctor about spots that have any of the following features:
A is for asymmetry: One half of a mole or birthmark does not match the other.
B is for border: The edges are irregular, ragged, notched or blurred.
C is for color: The color is not the same all over and may include shades of brown or black, or sometimes with patches of pink, red, white or blue.
D is for diameter: The spot is larger than 6 millimeters across (about one-quarter inch - the size of a pencil eraser), although melanomas can sometimes be smaller than this.
Some melanomas do not fit the rules described above, so it is important to tell your doctor about any changes in skin lesions, new skin lesions or growths that look different from the rest of your moles. Be sure to show your doctor any area that concerns you. A qualified doctor should be able to identify any suspicious areas you may have.
To learn more about skin cancer and how you can protect yourself call your American Cancer Society at (800) 227-2345 or visit www.cancer.org. The American Cancer Society is making progress against all types of cancer, and is saving lives and helping create a world with less cancer and more birthdays. More than 24,000 Iowans participate in one of nearly 90 American Cancer Society Relay For Life events around the state to help "fight back" against this disease. Relay is the world's largest movement to end cancer - it unites 3.5 million people each year to celebrate the lives of those who have battled cancer, to remember loved ones lost to the disease and to fight back against cancer.
Please join the American Cancer Society Relay For Life of Hamilton County on July 8 at the Webster City High School track field beginning at 6 p.m. To learn more about Relay For Life, or to register as a survivor, caregiver or a team member, please log onto: www.relayforlife.org/hamiltoncountyia. Together we can make a difference.
Liddy Hora is the community relations staff partner for the American Cancer Society in a five-county area including Webster, Humboldt, Hamilton, Pocahontas and Calhoun counties.