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Skin Cancer

SKIN CANCER FAQ

What is Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer is a disease in which cancer (malignant) cells are found in the outer layers of your skin. Your skin protects your body against heat, light, infection, and injury. It also stores water, fat, and vitamin D.

The skin has two main layers and several kinds of cells. The top layer of skin is called the epidermis. It contains three kinds of cells: flat, scaly cells on the surface called squamous cells; round cells called basal cells; and cells called melanocytes, which give your skin its color.

What Causes Skin Cancer?

Sunburn and Sunlight

Very simply, sunburn and UV light can damage your skin, and this damage can lead to skin cancer. There are of course other determining factors, including your heredity and environment. However, both the total amount of sun received over the years, and overexposure resulting in sunburn can cause skin cancer. Most people receive 80% of their lifetime exposure to the sun by 18 years of age. The message to parents from this is to protect your children.

Tanning

Tanning is your skin’s response to UV light. It is a protective reaction to prevent further injury to your skin from the sun. However, it does not prevent skin cancer. Remember, skin cancer is very slow to develop. The sunburn you receive this week may take 20 years or more to become skin cancer.

Heredity

If there is a history of skin cancer in your family, you are probably at a higher risk. People with fair skin, with a northern European heritage appear to be most susceptible.

Environment

The level of UV light today is higher than it was 50 or 100 years ago. This is due to a reduction of ozone in the earth’s atmosphere (the Ozone Hole). Ozone serves as a filter to screen out and reduce the amount of UV light that we are exposed to. With less atmospheric ozone, a higher level of UV light reaches the earth’s surface.

How can I determine my personal risk?

It is estimated that 1 out of 7 people in the United States will develop some form of this cancer during their lifetime. One serious sunburn can increase the risk by as much as 50%.

The effect UV light has on your skin is dependent both upon the intensity and the duration of your exposure. How your skin reacts to the amount of exposure received is related to your genetic background. Even if you rarely sunburn however, sensitive areas such as your lips, nose, and palms of the hands should be protected.

Are there precautions that will reduce my risk?

The following six steps have been recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology and the Skin Cancer Foundation to help reduce the risk of sunburn and skin cancer.

  1. Minimize your exposure to the sun at midday and between the hours of 10:00AM and 3:00PM.
  2. Apply sunscreen with at least a SPF-30 or higher, to all areas of the body which are exposed to the sun.
  3. Reapply sunscreen every two hours, even on cloudy days. Reapply after swimming or perspiring.
  4. Wear clothing that covers your body and shades your face. (Hats should provide shade for both the face and back of the neck.)
  5. Avoid exposure to UV radiation from sunlamps or tanning parlors.
  6. Protect your children. Keep them from excessive sun exposure when the sun is strongest (10:00AM and 3:00PM), and apply sunscreen liberally and frequently to children 6 months of age and older. Do not use sunscreen on children under 6 months of age. Parents with children under 6 months of age should severely limit their children’s sun exposure.