If you love the sun and the outdoors, even in Alaska, take care to avoid skin cancer. Cancer is a global epidemic that affects more millions of people around the world; but, skin cancer is the most common in the United States. More than 3 million Americans each year are affected by three major types of skin cancer, and about 9,500 are diagnosed every day. While Alaska has dark winters, our skin needs protection from the long summer days that give us plenty of sun exposure.
What is Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer develops as an abnormal growth of skin cells that affects areas of the skin exposed to the sun; however, cancer may also grow on areas of the body hidden from the sun.
People of all skin tones and even darker complexions may get skin cancer. For people with darker complexions, skin cancer develops in areas that don’t get exposed to the sun.
Skin cancer usually develops on areas like the lips, face, ears, neck, chest, and scalp, because these areas are often exposed to sunlight. However, it can also show in areas like the palms of your hand or soles of your feet, under the fingernails and toes, as well as the genital area, areas that don’t see the light of day. Each type of skin cancer has different signs and symptoms.
Types of Skin Cancer
Skin cancer has three major types. These are:
- Basal Cell Carcinoma
- Squamous Cell Carcinoma
However, there are also other types of skin cancer that are not melanoma called nonmelanoma skin cancer, and its treatment depends on the type of skin cancer.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma is usually found in areas exposed to the sun, and it may appear as:
- Pearly or waxy bump
- A flat or brown scar-like lesion
- Recurring scabbing or bleeding sore
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Like the basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma appears on sun-exposed areas as well. People with darker complexions are more likely to have squamous cell carcinoma on areas that are not exposed to sunlight.
Squamous cell carcinoma appears as a red nodule, that is firm or a flat lesion with a scaly and crusted surface.
This type of skin cancer can develop on any part of the body, whether it’s an existing mole that becomes cancerous or on healthy skin; however, melanoma usually develops on the face or trunk in men and on the legs for women. It also affects the areas of the skin that is away from the sun in both genders.
Anyone can develop melanoma, but for individuals with darker skin tones, melanoma usually appears on the palms or soles, under fingernails and toenails.
Symptoms for melanoma include:
- large brownish spot with speckles
- a mole that changes size and feel, color, or bleeds
- a lesion with an irregular border that looks pink, red, white, blue or bluish black
- itchy and painful lesions
- dark lesions on palms, soles, fingertips or toes, or mucous membranes like the lining of your mouth, nose, vagina or anus
Less common skin cancers:
This is a rare form of skin cancer that develops in the skin’s blood vessels that causes purple or red patches on the skin or mucous membranes.
People with AIDS who have weak immune systems, as well as individuals who have undergone organ transplants are more likely to have Kaposi sarcoma.
Merkel Cell Carcinoma
Often found on the head, neck or trunk, Merkel cell carcinoma creates firm and shiny nodules that appear on or just under the skin and hair follicles.
Sebaceous Gland Carcinoma
Sebaceous gland carcinoma is a rare and aggressive cancer that develops in the oil glands of the skin. Sebaceous gland carcinomas can grow anywhere and appear as painless, hard nodules that occur on the eyelid.
Causes of Skin Cancer
Cancer is caused by mutilations that occur in the DNA of a cell. When mutations occur, cells proliferate and form a mass of cancer cells.
Exposure to ultraviolet light may lead to skin cancer. That is why experts always recommend refraining from tanning beds and exposure to sunlight. Other factors contribute to skin cancer which explains why skin cancer can develop on some areas of the skin hidden from the sun.
Fair skin. People with fairer skin tone are more likely to develop skin cancer because of the lack of melanin in the skin. Melanin gives pigment to the skin and can deflect UV rays from the sun.
Prolonged exposure to the sun. The sun emits UV rays that are harmful to the skin, as it causes the skin to burn and age much faster.
There are many various methods of treatment for skin cancer that depend on each type.
One of the most common procedure is to remove cancer surgically, and a scar depending on the size of the cancer is left. You may get a smaller scar if the cancer is discovered early and treated right away. The larger the cancer is, the more invasive the procedure can be.
Regular screening is encouraged to catch skin cancer at its earliest. Although many skin cancers are related to UV exposure, experts recommend various measures to avoid or limit UV exposure.
To avoid getting exposed to UV rays, make sure to always:
- minimize outdoor activities
- avoid tanning beds and sunbathing
- wear protective clothing and wide-brimmed hats
- use a sunscreen with at least 30 sun protection factor and reapply every two hours or as soon as you sweat or wash off your sunscreen.