For those of us that live near the beach, summer is the official start of tanning season. It’s the time of year where you enjoy sitting in the sun, swimming in the oceans or lakes and outdoor barbecues. Unfortunately, the last thing on people’s mind is skin cancer. Our understanding of the effects of the sun on our bodies is greater now than ever before. With that comes the knowledge that too much sun is actually harmful to your body. There are different types of skin cancer (#skincancer) which I will provide a basic understanding of and how to protect yourself.
How Do You Get Skin Cancer?
Each morning that you wake up and look outside to see the sun above the horizon, you can expect our planet to be bombarded with 3 main types of UV radiation. There is UVA (Ultraviolet A), UVB (Ultraviolet B) and UVC (Ultraviolet C) radiation. You have probably never heard of UVC and that is with good reason since the earth’s atmosphere absorbs UVC. The same atmosphere absorbs some of UVB but most of UVA rays get through and hit us. There are some benefits for UV radiation such as the formation of vitamin D in our bodies to strengthen bones as well as a nice suntan. But having too much sun is also bad for you. Some other forms of UV radiation are tanning bed lamps and black lights. Overexposure to the sun can be seen on our skin by sunburn, freckles and even a suntan.
Three Main Types Of Skin Cancer
Skin cancer is an abnormal growth of skin cells on your body which can be caused by exposure to sunlight or tanning lights but that is not always the case. It occurs when there are mutations or errors in the DNA of skin cells. The mutations cause the cells to grow out of control and form a mass of cancer cells. There are three main skin cancer types that everyone has to be aware of are: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. These have been named based on the skin cells that they affect. These cancer cells are associated with the top layer of your skin called the epidermis. This layer of skin cells continually sheds and are made up of three main types of cells: Squamous cells, Basal cells and Melanocytes (Melanoma).
Take a good look at the skin on your arm. What you see is the epidermis which has 5 layers. The outermost layer is called the stratum corneum which is what you see and touch daily. These cells shed once they die and protect us from pathogens and bacteria. Right underneath is where the squamous cells live and its primary function is the skin’s inner lining. Next layer under contain the basal cells which are responsible for the production of new cells. At the inner most layer lies the melanocytes. Melanocytes produce a pigment called melanin which gives your skin its color. This pigment acts as a UV filter and can increase in production as you spend more time in the sunlight.
As you can see, skin cancer will show up in various levels of your outer skin depending where the mutation occurs. Treatment of these cancers will also depend on which layer is affected. Early detection is the key to effectively beating it. Let us begin with squamous cell carcinoma. It will often look like scaly red patches, open sores, elevated growths with a central depression (dip in the center), or warts and they may crust or bleed. Treatment for this form of skin cancer involves surgery to remove the growth and can be done by various ways including your normal surgery, freezing and removing, slicing and heating to kill the cells, radiation and there are also creams and gels for treatment.
Basal cell skin cancer often look like open sores, red patches, pink growths, shiny bumps, and scars. These are most prominent due to intense sun exposure. Treatment also involves surgery to remove the growth and can be done by various ways including your normal surgery, freezing and removing, slicing and heating to kill the cells, radiation and there are also creams, tablets and gels for treatment.
Melanoma resemble moles and some develop from moles. The majority of melanomas are black or brown, but they can also be of any other color in the rainbow. Melanoma is the deadliest and most serious form of skin cancer. The first step in treatment is the removal of the mutated cells and the standard method of doing this is by surgically cutting it out. In addition, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, gene therapy or combination of these techniques are required to prevent it from coming back or spreading to other parts of your skin.
We all love the sun and a nice tan on your body can go along way but you can still protect yourself and get a nice tan. Reducing your risk of skin cancer can be done by limiting or avoiding exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation.focus on suntan lotions that have an SPF above 15 and help screen for UVA and UVB rays. When not at the beach, wear clothes that help reduce sunlight exposure. Finally, check your skin for suspicious changes which can help detect skin cancer at its earliest stages. When in doubt, go see a dermatologist.
Have you been to a dermatologist?