Medical Column: Protect Your Skin All Year Long

By: Dr. William Zhu
Medical Oncologist/Hematologist
Edwards Cancer Center at Colquitt Regional Medical Center

Did you know that skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States and worldwide? Current data shows that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70. At the Edwards Cancer Center, we encourage our patients and the community to be educated about the risks of skin cancer and the ways they can prevent a skin cancer diagnosis.

There are three major types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Approximately 80 percent of skin cancers are basal cell and the other 20 percent are squamous cell. Melanoma and other types of skin cancers account for less than five percent of all skin cancer diagnoses.

Skin cancers usually develop on sun-exposed areas, especially the face, head, lips, neck, and the backs of the hands. Squamous skin cancer can also develop in scars or from actinic keratoses, a pre-cancerous skin condition caused by excessive sun exposure. Most people are aware of the dangers of the sun during the summer months, but everyone should be mindful that the sun produces harmful UV rays year round.

Exposure to UV rays (sunlight) is the most common cause of skin cancer, but there are many other risk factors that increase the likelihood of a skin cancer diagnosis. Other causes include use of tanning beds, immunosuppression, exposure to unusually high levels of radiation, and contact with certain chemicals, such as arsenic and hydrocarbons in tar, oils, and soot.

There are other genetic factors that can increase a person’s risk of skin cancer. These include:

  • People with fair skin
  • People with light (blond or red) hair and blue or green eyes
  • Those with certain genetic disorders that deplete skin pigment, such as albinism and xeroderma pigmentosum
  • People who have been previously treated for skin cancer
  • People with numerous moles, unusual moles, or large moles that were present at birth
  • People with a family history of skin cancer
  • People with immunosuppression, or impairment of the immune system

The best way to lower the chance of skin cancer is to limit exposure to UV light. When outdoors, practice sun safety. Wear a shirt, sunglasses, hat, sunscreen, and avoid tanning beds. Parents and caregivers should also be vigilant in protecting children from excessive sun exposure. Stopping smoking can also decrease the risk of skin cancer, along with many other cancers.

Since skin cancers tend to grow slowly and can typically be caught early removed completely. Left untreated, however, they can spread to other areas of the body such as internal organs and become incurable. Check your skin regularly for any new growths and seek medical help if you find any. If possible, have an annual dermatology skin examination. If you need any assistance, please contact the Colquitt Regional Physician Referral line at 229-891-9362.