Your skin is your body’s largest organ and it protects your other tissues and organs from the outside world. But as a protective layer, this also means your skin is constantly exposed to the elements, including the sun and harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.
It doesn't matter if you are young or old, or have fair skin or dark skin — everyone is at risk for skin damage caused by the sun. And, too much exposure to UV rays can increase your risk of skin cancer — the most common type of cancer in the United States. However, there are ways you can protect your skin from sun damage and still have fun in the sun.
Protecting Your Skin
You only get one skin for life, so it makes sense to protect it and care for it well. Follow these tips to protect your skin against sun damage and reduce your risk of skin cancer:
- Avoid outdoor activities during the hours between 10am and 4pm, when the sun’s rays are the strongest.
- Wear sunscreen, even on cloudy days. A sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher is recommended.
- Reapply sunscreen often, especially if you are swimming or playing sports.
- Wear a hat to cover your neck, ears, nose and scalp.
- Never use a tanning bed.
- Know your risk factors for skin cancer, including any previous sunburn, tanning bed use and family history of skin cancer.
Types of skin cancer
Skin cancer is one of the most preventable forms of cancer and can be successfully treated with early detection. There are three major types of skin cancer:
- Basal cell carcinoma: this is the most common type of skin cancer and develops in areas that are exposed to the sun on a regular basis, such as the head and neck. Basal cell carcinoma rarely spreads to other parts of the body, but can reoccur in the same spot.
- Squamous cell carcinoma: This type of cancer develops most often on the face, ears, neck, lips and hands. It can also develop in a place where there is a scar. Squamous cell carcinoma is more likely to spread to deeper layers of the skin than basal cell carcinoma, although uncommon.
- Melanoma: Melanoma cancer develops from pigment-making cells, located deep in the skin. Although it is the most uncommon type of skin cancer, it is also the most likely to grow and spread if not found in the early stages.
Diagnosing Skin Cancer
When skin cancer does develop, early detection is key. Plan to visit your dermatologist for skin cancer screenings once a year. You should also perform a monthly self skin check for changes to your skin and call your doctor if you find any of the following:
- New or unusual growth on the skin
- Changes in size or color of an existing mole
- A bump or sore on the skin that doesn’t go away
- A rash-like patch that doesn’t go away
- Anything on your skin that seems new or suspicious
- Shortness of breath
If you have signs of skin cancer, your doctor will order a skin biopsy — a small sample of the tissue — to determine if there are cancerous cells.
Treating Skin Cancer
Depending on the type of skin cancer you have and how early it has been detected, your treatment options may range from a topical cream (imiquimod therapy) applied to the skin or interferon injections to surgical removal of the skin cancer. Other treatments may also be needed to prevent the spread of cancerous tissue to other parts of the body, including chemotherapy, immunotherapy and targeted radiation therapy.
Balance, HCR ManorCare's comprehensive health and wellness blog, supplies readers with healthy ideas throughout the year. The blog is designed to serve as a resource, not only for patients, residents and families, but for anyone who strives to live a healthy, "balanced" life. For more information and help making healthy choices, go to balance.hcr-manorcare.com. If you need help making a health care decision, visit our CareFinder and live chat.