What You Should Know About Skin Cancer Prevention
“Skin cancer” is one of the first lectures I received during my studies in medical school. Thinking back, it was probably intentionally scheduled to appear so early on in our medical training because skin cancer is one of the most prevalent and aggressive diseases out there and raising awareness is a crucial first step in reducing its incidence rate. To be exact, one in every three cancers diagnosed world-wide are skin cancers. In the Canadian context, more than 80 000 cases of skin cancers are reported in every year, killing more than 1200 Canadians. In this post, I would like to discuss causes of skin cancer, the risk factors, and what you can do in terms of prevention.
There are two main types of UV rays that reach our skin: UVA and UVB. Compared with UVA, UVB is higher in energy, does not penetrate as deep into our skin, and is roughly 10 times less abundant in our environment. These two types of UV rays damage your DNA through different mechanisms, but both ultimately compromise your cell’s genetic stability leading to cancer.
The three types of skin cancers are BCC (Basal Cell Carcinoma), SCC (Squamous Cell Carcinoma), and melanoma. Although BCC and SCC are not lethal and often do not metastasize (i.e. spread to other organs), they can cause many symptoms ranging from cosmetic inconveniences to painful sores on your skin. However, what is most concerning is that once you develop your first skin cancer, you’re are substantially more likely to develop subsequent internal cancers such as lung cancer, breast cancer, oral cancer. These types of cancer are very serious and can be fatal. The third type of skin cancer is melanoma, which is malignant and spreads to other parts of the body. Depending on the stage and when it is diagnosed, the survival rate of melanoma can be as low as 23%.
Who is at risk?
- Individuals with history of sunburn- shockingly, getting sunburn just once every two years can triple ones’ risk of melanoma. Think twice before you go to the beach to tan without proper protection
- People with fair skin- Individuals with pale skin have lower melanin in their skin, the pigment which slightly blocks out UV rays.Consequently, they are at higher risk for skin cancer. That being said, without proper protection and with excessive sun exposure, all ethnicities can vulnerable to skin cancer.
- Men- testosterone suppresses the immune system making men more susceptible than women to developing skin cancers.
- Outdoor workers: outdoor workers who receive sunlight occupationally increases the risk by up to 10 times when compared with their indoor counterparts
- Elderlies- as we age our cells become progressively worse at repairing its genetic machinery. This means that when the UV rays damage our skin, the destructions are more likely to be irreversible.
Prevention for Skin Cancer
Skip the tanning bed and start putting on sunscreen. Specifically, look sunscreen that are labelled “SPF 50+ broad spectrum” to protect against both UVA and UVB. Apply sunscreen on all parts of your skin exposed to the sun, 30 minutes before heading outdoors. This includes all the way from your face to your feet!Make sure to reapply them every 2 hours and potentially even more frequently if you sweat a lot. Alternatively, wearing long sleeves and long pants to cover up your skin will do the job, too. Sunglasses should also be worn for protection of your eyes and eyelids. It does not matter what age, sex, or race you are- it’s never too late to start taking precautionary measures!
I have also included a link from WebMD about the signs and symptoms of skin cancer. It’d be a good idea to familiarize yourself with the them and consult your GP if necessary!
Stay Healthy and Protect Your Skin,
I would like to acknowledge Ms. Angela Peng, a current Doctor of Pharmacy candidate, for contributing her insights to this topic and helping me complete the article.
Kevin Cheng is a rehabilitation specialist, personal fitness trainer, biomechanics researcher, and physician-in-training. He specializes in sports and car accident injury rehabilitation, physique and figure training, and powerlifting. He is currently running a volunteer service, “Access Fitness”, to provide by-donation fitness consultation services and program design for the general public in the hopes of gathering funds for fitness equipment for children in rural areas. For more information, please visit accessfitness.org or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.