This is Miami and too many of us love to get and show off a great tan. What we don’t love is aging prematurely, injuring our skin or, even worse, developing skin cancer.
Each year, more than 1.2 million people in the U.S. are diagnosed with skin cancer. People of all colors and races can get it, but persons with light skin who sunburn often are at a higher risk. Besides sunburns, other risk factors include a family history of skin cancer, exposure to x-rays, a weakened or compromised immune system, scarring caused by a disease or burn, and exposure to cancer-causing compounds.
If left untreated, skin cancer can continue to progress beyond initial skin cancer symptoms. Fortunately, a wide range of advanced treatments are available with an encouraging rate of success.
Skin cancer treatments can include common solutions such as scraping and burning, freezing, radiation and routine excision of lesions offered by many physicians. More specialized and comprehensive courses of treatment include Mohs surgery, an advanced surgical technique performed by highly trained specialists.
Skin Cancer Prevention: The Sun & Your Skin
Exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation is harmful to our skin. The sun’s ultraviolet A (UVA) rays are called the “aging” rays. UVA can cause wrinkles, age spots, and tans. The ultraviolet B (UVB) rays are known as the “burning” rays and cause sunburn. Both types of UV rays can cause skin cancer. These harmful UV rays reach the earth every day. Even on a cloudy day, UV rays can damage our skin.
Without proper protection from the sun’s harmful UV rays, our skin is at risk for injuries such as sunburns, harmful suntanning, premature aging, allergic reaction and, the most serious consequence of prolonged exposure to ultraviolet radiation: skin cancer.
The Three Types of Skin Cancer
Any lesion which does not heal within 2 weeks should be examined to make sure it is not cancerous. Most skin cancers develop on areas of the skin that get years of sun exposure like the face, neck, ears, forearms, hands, and trunk. Basal Cell Carcinomas and Squamous Cell Carcinomas are the most common forms of skin cancer, but Melanomas are by far the deadliest.
Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC):
Basal Cell Carcinoma looks like a flesh-colored, pearl-like bump, or pinkish patch of skin and frequently develops in people who have light skin. With early treatment, BCC can be cured. Left untreated, BCC can cause bleeding and severe damage, which can be disfiguring.
This is one of the most common skin cancers and is caused by long-term sun exposure. Basal Cell Carcinoma sometimes resembles non-cancerous skin conditions such as Psoriasis or Eczema, which is why it is always best to consult a dermatologist for basal cell carcinoma treatment and detection.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC):
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) can look like a red scaly patch, raised, firm bump, or a sore that heals and re-opens. People who have light skin are most likely to develop SCC, but it can develop in dark-skinned people, especially those with some scarring. With early detection and proper treatment, SCC also has a high cure rate. Left untreated, SCC also can be disfiguring. In rare cases, untreated SCC can spread to other areas of the body and can be deadly.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma is the second most common skin cancer after Basal Cell Carcinoma. This condition usually appears as thick, rough, scaly patches that may bleed easily. They often resemble warts and can appear as open sores. The skin around the site may exhibit signs of wrinkling, pigment changes, and loss of elasticity. It is best to consult a specialist in skincare for squamous cell carcinoma treatment options.
Melanoma may develop in a mole or it can appear on the skin as a new, dark spot. Sometimes Melanoma contains shades of red, Malignant Melanoma blue, or white. When found early, Melanoma can often be cured. Left untreated, Melanoma can spread to other areas of the body and be deadly. One person dies of melanoma every hour.
Melanoma is the most serious and aggressive form of skin cancer. When diagnosed and removed early (in-situ) while still thin and limited to the outermost skin layer, Melanoma is almost 100% curable. Once cancer advances and spreads deeper into the skin and then to other parts of the body, it is hard to treat and can be deadly.
Too many sunburns or sunburns that blister can increase your risk of developing skin cancer. Avoiding sunburns is important. If you do get sunburned, most people get relief from cool, wet compresses, baths or soothing lotions. When a fever, chills, upset stomach, or confusion develops, you may need immediate medical attention.
Tanning is often mistaken as a sign of good health. What a tan actually means is that the skin has been injured. A tan develops when the skin tries to protect itself from harmful UV rays. Indoor tanning is not a safe option to sun exposure since tanning beds and sun lamps emit harmful UV radiation. This radiation can be stronger than that given off by the sun. Whether the radiation comes from indoor tanning or the sun, it increases a person’s risk of developing skin cancer, including Melanoma. There is no such thing as a “safe” tan.
Exposure to UV rays makes skin tough, leathery and accelerates the aging process. Exposed skin can develop large freckles, age spots, wrinkles, and scaly growths known as Actinic Keratoses (Aks), which are considered an early stage in the development of skin cancer.
Skin Condition & Melanoma Treatments
For treating any of the above skin conditions it is always best to consult a dermatologist. The Greater Miami Skin & Laser Center is home to specialists in treating many types of skin cancer. Dr. Martin Zaiac has successfully treated thousands of patients for various types of skin cancer.
The ABCDE’s of Skin Cancer
For early detection of Melanoma, follow the ABCDEs of Skin Cancer
Uneven shape or pattern
Outer edges uneven
Dark black or multiple colors
Greater than 6mm
Allergic Reactions and Other Conditions:
For some people, sun exposure causes an allergic reaction. Common signs of a sun allergy are bumps, hives, blisters, and red blotches on the skin.People taking certain medications can develop a rash after being out in the sun. Medications that interact with UV light and can cause this reaction include birth control pills, antibiotics, and medications for treating blood pressure, arthritis, and depression. Sun exposure also can worsen some diseases. People who have lupus erythematous or cold sores should protect their skin from the sun. If a flare occurs, be sure to contact your dermatologist.
How do I protect my skin from the sun?
If you use common sense and take care to Be Sun Smart® (see section below), you can safely work and play outdoors without increasing skin cancer risk or premature aging. It is never too late to start protecting your skin. Still love that sun-kissed glow? Skip the suntan and go for cosmetic bronzers to achieve the look without the damage.
Here’s How to Play Sun Smart®
- Generously apply a broad-spectrum water-resistant sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or more to all exposed skin and re-apply approximately every two hours, even on cloudy days, and after swimming or sweating.
- Wear protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses, where possible.
- Seek shade when appropriate, remembering that the sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If your shadow is shorter than you are, seek shade.
- Protect children and babies from sun exposure by playing in the shade, wearing protective clothing, and applying sunscreen. You babies cannot tell you they are getting burned.
- Use extra caution near water, snow, and sand as they reflect and intensify the damaging rays of the sun which can increase your chance of sunburn.
- Get your vitamin D safely through a healthy diet that may include vitamin supplements. Don’t seek the sun.
- Avoid tanning beds. If you want to look like you’ve been in the sun, consider using a sunless self-tanning product, but continue to use sunscreen with it.
- Check your birthday suit on your birthday. If you notice anything changes, growths, or bleeding on your skin, see a dermatologist.
When should I see a dermatologist if I am concerned about skin cancer or moles?
You should see a dermatologist a minimum of once a year. If you notice that a mole differs from another or a spot on your skin changes, itches, or bleeds (even if it is small), immediately make an appointment to see a dermatologist. These changes can be signs of skin cancer. With early detection and treatment, skin cancer has a high cure rate.
If you are unhappy with the signs of aging on your skin due to too many days at the beach, talk to your dermatologist. He or she can tell you about different options that can help minimize or even reverse past damage.