Monday, 17 August 2015

Skin Cancer: The Signs You Should Watch Out For

Getting outside and soaking up the sun is what many of us tend to do when summer hits. While the heat and sunshine feels good on the skin, sometimes there are consequences to spending lots of time outside in the sun. Too much sun exposure can result in skin cancer. Although it’s one of the most preventable diseases, skin cancer is one of the fastest rising cancers in Canada. Last year, Canadian Cancer Society released a report that estimated 6,500 cases of malignant melanoma would be diagnosed that year. They estimated that 1,050 people would die from the disease.  

There are three different types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. The basal cell is the most common form of skin cancer in Canada. It might be easy to shrug off or overlook spots on your skin because you’d assume it would go away—but skin cancer doesn’t fade away like a pimple or blemish. Pay attention if the lesion is crusty, bleeds, gets bigger or itches. These are signs that should alert you to see your doctor to have your skin looked at.

If You Have a Family History of Skin Cancer, Get Yourself Checked

If you there’s a history of skin cancer in your family or you have a lot of moles, it’s best to see a dermatologist or physician to perform mole checks. This involves taking photos of different areas of the skin and comparing the photos to a new set a year later.  By doing this, your physician can see if moles or lesions are getting bigger or look suspicious. Some areas that will be looked at include the bottom of the feet, nail plates and back. Even mucosal surfaces like the eye and tongue will be checked.   

The different skin cancer types
Source: These are how the different skin cancer cells look like.

Don’t Buy Into the Skin Cancer Myths

Some myths about skin cancer tend to stick around and are confused as reality. There’s a widespread belief that if a person has darker skin, their chance of getting skin cancer is lower. But that’s not the truth. People of colour are less susceptible to UV damage because they have more melanin in their skin. That doesn’t make them immune to developing skin cancer from UV damage though. The rule still applies where if you see lesions or moles getting darker or expanding, you should have your skin looked at by a physician.

How to Protect Your Skin From the Sun

  • The sun’s rays are typically the strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Duck into the shade or avoid spending too much time outside during these hours.
  • People who use tanning beds increase their chances of developing skin cancer. It’s best to refrain from visiting tanning beds and salons.
  • Getting sunburns is annoying and painful, and they also increase your chances of developing melanoma. Having five or more sunburns will double your lifetime risk.
  • Wear long sleeved shirts and long pants. Covering up your skin acts as another line of defense from the sun.
  • Apply a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher daily.
  • Spend 10-15 minutes examining your skin once a month. Ask a family member or partner to check for unusual marks or lesions on difficult-to-see areas like your back.
Anyone can get skin cancer, but there are many preventative measures you can take to lower your chances. Enjoy the sun, but be smart about it.

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