Have you heard the new reports lately, talking about an alarming rise in skin cancer, especially among young patients? I am glad skin cancer is getting some attention from the media. It is a big deal. As a skin cancer survivor I try to educate people as often as I can about the dangers of skin damage and skin cancer, but I know that too many young people, and even folks my age don’t take it seriously. We should take this seriously because skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, there are 3.5 million new cases of skin cancer each year.
There are three main kinds of skin cancers, Basal Cell (that’s the kind I had), Squamous Cell, and the very deadly Melanoma. Everyone can get skin cancer. When I first found out I had skin cancer, I admit I was a little freaked out. After having it removed several times and watching it come back, I had to have a special surgery to cut the basal cells out. Although my surgery scar is really cool, it looks like Harry Potter’s scar from Voldemort, there is nothing cool about skin cancer. Despite my surgery, I was very lucky that my doctor found my skin cancer and that it was only basal cell. Many people are not nearly as lucky, skin cancer kills one person every 50 minutes.
I know some of you will be grossed out by this next graphic, and that’s okay – skin cancer is ugly. Doctors use something called the ABC’s of cancer to help diagnose trouble areas.
If you notice any of these indicators - you should have it checked out by your doctor right away. For someone like me, with a history of skin cancer, I have to go and get a skin check from a dermatologist every year.
It’s important for everyone to understand what skin cancer looks like and how to prevent it. Our skin has this wonderful stuff in it called melanin, that gives our body its color and it is used as protection from the harmful effects of the sun. There is no such thing as a healthy tan – tanned skin is actually damaged skin, and after too much damage, skin cancers can result.
The sun gives off UV or ultra violet radiation. This radiation travels down to earth and helps warm our planet, which is obviously a good thing, but these UV rays can be very damaging to our skin. UV rays actually come to earth in three forms; UVA rays, UVB rays, and UVC rays. The most damaging are the UVC rays, luckily nature protects us from most of those with our Ozone layer, but UVA and UVB rays get through. UVA rays are the weakest, but over-exposure will still result in skin damage. UVB rays are the ones that cause really bad sun burns (think of B for Bad or Burn rays). Wearing sunscreen, staying out of the sun – especially during the strongest hours of exposure between 10am to 2 pm, and wearing hats, sun glasses and protective clothing are all important ways to protect against these damaging rays.
Health officials are really concerned because they have seen a tremendous increase in cases of melanoma, describing it as a new epidemic in young women. So what is behind this huge jump in skin cancer cases? Tanning beds. One website I looked at said “tanning beds might as well be coffins.” Tanning beds emit up to 15 times the UV radiation of the sun, and it concentrates this radiation, including the extremely dangerous UVB rays. We need to teach young women about the very real and VERY PREVENTABLE risk of skin cancer when using these tanning booths.