Recognizing, Protecting Yourself Against Skin Cancer

As a member of the bipartisan Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program® of the Prevent Cancer Foundation®, I want to share the following information as we observe Skin Cancer Awareness Month.

You may know about melanoma — the deadly skin cancer that more than 96,000 (650 in West Virginia alone) are expected to be diagnosed with this year. But what do you know about basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers? Although not as fatal as melanoma, these cancers are more common and can be serious and painful, so they shouldn’t be overlooked.

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer, accounting for about eight in 10 cases. You’re most likely to develop basal cell carcinoma on areas that receive the most sun — often the head or neck. It may appear as reddish, itchy patches; small, shiny, pink or red bumps; pink growths; or oozing or crusted open sores. Often people first notice it because they bleed after shaving and the sore or cut doesn’t heal.

Basal cell cancer grows slowly, and although uncommon, it can spread into the bone or skin tissue or redevelop if it isn’t removed completely. In the early stages, basal cell is usually easy to treat, but if left to grow, you may need more invasive treatment that can result in disfigurement or muscle or nerve injury.

Squamous cell cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed skin cancer. It typically develops on the most sun-exposed areas, including the face, ears, neck, lips and hands, or on scars. Squamous cell can appear as rough or scaly red patches (that might crust or bleed); raised growths or lumps, sometimes with a lower center; open sores (that may ooze or crust) that don’t heal, or that heal and return; or wart-like growths. This type of cancer is more likely than basal cell cancer to spread, although that is still rare. However, if squamous cell cancer isn’t treated in a timely manner, it can lead to disfigurement or even death.

Anyone can get skin cancer, but those with fair skin, blue, gray or green eyes, blond, red or light brown hair, freckled or easily reddened skin, several moles (especially since birth), or a personal or family history of the disease are at greater risk. Basal cell and squamous cell cancers are found more often in men, but rates are rising in women. Most skin cancers among African Americans are squamous cell cancers, and this cancer is increasingly diagnosed in Latinos and others with darker skin.

Protect your skin. Wear sunscreen every day — even if it’s cloudy or you’re only going to be outside a short period of time. Use broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher and wear protective clothing, hats and sunglasses. Avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. if you can. Pay attention to the appearance of your skin and talk to a health care professional if you notice any changes. To learn more about skin cancer prevention, visit www.preventcancer.org/skincancer.

Mary G. McKinley, RN, MSN, CCRN, is a critical care nurse and is the spouse of David B. McKinley, P.E. (WV-1) and is a member of the Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program of the Prevent Cancer Foundation. Statistics provided by the Prevent Cancer Foundation, American Cancer Society and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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