TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Some 3.5 million cases of basal and squamous cell cancers are diagnosed in the U.S. each year, and melanoma, the most dangerous skin cancer, will account for more than 73,000 cases of skin cancer in 2015, according to the American Cancer Society.
"Incidents of skin cancer increases as we age, but it is both highly preventable and curable if caught early," said 1st Lt. Nathan Hamilton, with 72nd Medical Group. "Melanomas are more difficult to catch and treat, so I would encourage anyone to make an appointment with their primary care physician or dermatologist for an annual skin checkup."
Lieutenant Hamilton said a person with 25 or more moles can be at risk for skin cancer, and added that it is important to note that people with dark skin are also susceptible.
Ultraviolet rays from the sun and other sources such as tanning beds are the prime cause of skin cancer. Apart from burning the skin, too much exposure can also cause eye damage and premature wrinkles.
Types of skin cancer
According to the American Cancer Society, types of skin cancer include basal or squamous cell cancers found in the outer layer of the skin. Most basal and squamous cell cancers develop in sun exposed areas such as the face, ears, neck, lips and the back of the hands. They can be treated and even cured if found early.
Melanoma begins in the cells that make up the melanin, the cells that protect the deeper layers of the skin from harmful effects of the sun and give skin its color. Melanoma can start anywhere, even areas that are never exposed to the sun, under the nails, eyes, private areas and in the mouth.
Melanoma can grow and spread to other parts of the body, making it very difficult to treat. However, like basal and squamous cell cancer, it is most always curable if found early. The fact that melanoma cancer can spread makes it the most dangerous. Most deaths from skin cancer start with melanoma, accounting for nearly 10,000 of the more than 13,000 skin cancer deaths each year.
Other types of skin cancer include Merkel cell carcinoma, skin lymphoma, Kaposi sarcoma, skin adnexal tumors, and sarcomas, but they are all much less common.
Risk factors for skin cancer
According to Lieutenant Hamilton, risk factors include too much exposure to UV radiation from either sun or self-tanning beds, pale skin, natural red or blond hair, genetics, a family history, multiple or unusual moles, severe past sunburns, a weakened immune system and older age, though it can happen at younger age also.
Symptoms of skin cancer
"Skin cancer is easy to find and the earlier, the better," the lieutenant said.
He advises that frequently there are no symptoms, but if you have signs of any change on the skin, size or color of a mole, growth, spot or the appearance of a new growth, even if it has no color at all, you should make an appointment to see a doctor. He added that scaliness, roughness, oozing, bleeding or a change in the way an area of skin looks, a sore that won't heal, a change in sensation such as itchiness, tenderness or pain should be checked out.
Age spots, or skin tags around areas where fabric causes friction, are usually benign, according to Lieutenant Hamilton, but he added that sometimes it can be difficult even for a professional to determine without a biopsy, so it is a good idea to get checked out.
There are precautions a person could take to lessen their chances of getting skin cancer. The best way is to avoid long exposure to intense sunlight.
The ACS recommends the Slip! Slop! Slap! and Wrap! rules:
· Slip on a shirt
· Slop on sunscreen and lip balm with broad spectrum protection with sun protection factor (SPF) 30 or more, and reapply every two hours and after swimming or sweating. Lieutenant Hamilton says he recommends SPF 45 or higher for his patients.
· Slap on a hat for shade
· Wrap on sunglasses with a 100 percent UVA and UVB absorption to protect your eyes.