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Skin Cancer in a Nutshell
by guest Expert
Sarah Rendle

Detection and Prevention
You can't wait for those warm summer days. You picture yourself laying on the beach or at the pool, swimming in the waves, soaking up rays that turn your skin a golden brown as you fall in and out of a peaceful sleep. Most likely, the last thing on your mind is skin cancer. Yet tanning, one of the great past times of summer, is harmful to your skin, if not deadly.

Every year one million people in the United States find out they have skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. Although these statistics don't bode well for all those sunbathing beauties on America's beaches, the good news is that skin cancer has a 100 per cent curable rate, but only if detected early.

There are three main kinds of skin cancer: malignant melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma.

Malignant Melanoma
Malignant melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer and can quickly spread to other parts of the body, including the lymph nodes. If not treated in its early stages, malignant melanoma is often deadly. Melanoma begins in the melanocytes, the cells that make the skin pigment melanin.

The best way to prevent malignant melanoma is to check yourself regularly. ABCD rules can help identify a mole that could be malignant melanoma.
  • Asymmetry: One-half of the mole doesn't match the other half.
  • Border: Edges of the mole are ragged, notched, blurred, or irregular.
  • Colour: The colour of the mole is not uniform and consists of shades of tan, brown, black, and at times, red, white, or blue.
  • Diameter: The mole is wider than 6 millimetres or inch - the size of a pencil eraser.

Basal Cell Carcinoma and Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are non-malignant cancers that grow slowly and rarely spread to other parts of the body. Basal cell carcinoma begins as a small sore that doesn't heal. The sore appears flat with transparent edges or rounded with a dimpled middle; however, it does not itch or hurt. Squamous cell carcinoma usually appears as a raised bump with a crusting ulcer in the centre. The bump is usually small and scaling. Both basal and squamous cell carcinoma appear on exposed areas of the skin, including the face, scalp, ears, neck, hands, shoulders and back - areas where the skin has been damaged for many years.

Below are ways that you can protect your skin from the harmful effects of the sun:

  • Limit your exposure to the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when ultraviolet rays are more intense.
  • Wear a hat with at least a 4-inch wide brim to shade your neck, ears, and face. If possible, wear lightweight clothing that covers your arms, legs, and torso.
  • Use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher. When outside, reapply sunscreen every two hours, even on cloudy days.
  • Avoid reflective surfaces like water and snow, which increase the suns intensity and can reflect 85 per cent of the sun's damaging rays.
  • Avoid tanning beds and sun lamps.
  • Use caution if you're taking prescription drugs that increase your skin's sensitivity to UV radiation.
  • Protect your children by keeping them out of the sun, minimising sun exposure, and applying sunscreens beginning at six months of age.
  • Check yourself often using the ABCD rules.

Do you have a question you would like to ask Sarah relating to this article? Send any questions to [email protected] and we will publish the best of them on the site in the near future.

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