Skin cancer. Despite being the most common cancer in America, with an incidence rate among Americans of 1 in 5 and 9,500 new cases diagnosed every day, skin cancer remains the “forgotten cancer” by the general public.
Part of the reason for this is how preventable and treatable skin cancer is. Along with thyroid and breast cancer, skin cancer is one of the most successfully treated cancers out there. But a greater understanding of the need for prevention is required.
Common forms of nonmelanoma skin cancer, which include Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, affect more than three million people a year. That number represents a 145% and a 263% increase, respectively, in these diagnoses since the 1970s.
The greatest increase for both diagnoses occurred among women, while diagnoses in folks under the age of 40 have increased. Skin cancer is more common among white or light-skinned people, but contrary to popular belief, it can and does affect people of every race or skin color.
In fact, skin cancer in people of color is often not detected in its later stages when it is more difficult to treat. Additionally, people of color often develop skin cancer in less-obvious areas where sunlight does not reach, such as the inside of the mouth, the soles of the feet, the groin, and the palms of the hands.
And as if people with darker skin needed any more bad news, research indicates that people of color are less likely to survive skin cancer than people with fair skin.
All of these statistics underline the need for prevention and awareness of what skin cancer is and what to look for.
The first appearance of skin cancer usually comes in the form of an irregular or expanding mole, skin lesion, or birthmark. Telltale signs may include the appearance of new tissue or a new growth on the skin, sores that won’t heal, discoloration, itching, or bleeding.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends everyone avoid sun exposure and wear a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Seek shade, wear protective clothing and sunglasses, and do not use indoor tanning beds. Ultraviolet or UV rays are what cause skin cancer, and so they must be avoided as much as possible.
Regular skin self-exams are an important part of preventing skin cancer; about half of melanomas are detected in this manner. New moles or changes in old moles are indicators that an examination for a board-certified dermatologist is necessary.
In addition, a yearly exam from your dermatologist puts you in the best position to detect, diagnose, and treat skin cancer, and be one of the thousands of people who survive the “forgotten cancer” every year. Because you didn’t forget.