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Skin Cancer: Fry Now - Pay Later

It can sometimes be a long, cloudy, wet spring in Colorado, but don't let the weather lull you into forgetting that sun season is actually here. You may think you've had little need to remember your sunscreen recently, but Valley View Hospital is reminding you that it's a good time to make sunscreen application a habit for you and for your children.

According to the American Cancer Society, by far the most common cause of skin cancer is overexposure to the sun. Over 600,000 new cases of skin cancer are reported every year. While skin cancer is the most common form of human cancer, it is also one of the most curable forms when it is discovered early. And most skin cancer can actually be prevented.

Ninety percent of all skin cancers occur on parts of the body that usually aren't covered by clothing. The face, tips of the ears, hands and forearms have been the most common places for skin cancer to occur. In the past 50 years, the shoulders, backs and chests of men and the lower legs of women have become common areas for skin cancer. This is due to the widespread practice of sunbathing, deliberate exposure to the sun's ultraviolet radiation.

Who is at risk?

Anyone can get skin cancer, but people who sunburn easily and have fair skin with red or blond hair are the most likely to develop the disease. The amount of time spent in the sun greatly affects a person's risk of skin cancer. Here in the Rockies, we are closer to the sun, with less atmosphere to filter out the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation.

But, even if you are a fair-skinned blond, wearing protective clothing, using strong sunscreen and mitigating exposure to the sun can give you a good chance of avoiding skin cancer.

What are the Types of Skin Cancer?

  • Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer. It usually begins with a small, shiny, pearly bump on the neck, head or hand. It grows slowly and usually does not become life-threatening. But it can continue to grow in size and destroy underlying tissue. Untreated, it may bleed, crust over and reopen.

  • Squamous cell carcinoma may start as nodules or as well-defined red patches on the face, lips or tips of the ears. This kind of cancer can spread to other parts of the body and can become quite large if not treated.

  • Malignant melanoma is the least common but most serious form of skin cancer. It may originate in or near a mole. Melanomas involve the cells that give the skin its color and are often a mixture of black or brown, sometimes with red or blue portions. The borders of a melanoma are irregular.

    If not treated promptly, melanomas can spread throughout the body. About 28,000 new cases of melanoma are diagnosed each year. 6,300 people die of the disease every year. If discovered early enough, it is completely curable.

Only your doctor can diagnose and treat skin cancer.
The sun can cause many changes in your skin. These need to be examined by your doctor and possibly tested to determine if they are cancer.

It's Really About Prevention

In preventing overexposure to the sun, you can still enjoy the outdoors by taking simple precautions.
  • Cover up with a wide-brimmed hat, long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
  • Use sunscreens to help prevent skin cancer. A sunscreen also benefits your appearance by preventing premature aging of the skin. Use a product with a Sun protective Factor (SPF) of 15 or higher.
  • Apply sunscreen at least an hour before going into the sun and again regularly, especially after swimming or perspiring.
  • Don't use indoor sunlamps or tanning booths.
  • Pick your sun time for your best protection. Remember that the sun's strongest rays are between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
  • Remember that you can get burned on a cloudy day and in the water.
  • Keep track of your skin by doing a monthly self-exam. If you notice any change in moles or birthmarks (size, shape or color) or have a sore that does not heal, see your physician right away.
These precautions will help you and your family to enjoy the sun the summer safely.
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