May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, and while the dangers of melanoma are well known, it is important not to neglect the warning signs of the two most common types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), which can also become disfiguring and even deadly if not diagnosed and treated promptly. Because about 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun, The Skin Cancer Foundation encourages everyone to practice proper sun protection and learn how to spot nonmelanoma skin cancers.
“Melanoma is the most talked about skin cancer because it’s the most deadly; however, basal and squamous cell carcinomas should be taken seriously as well,” says Perry Robins, MD, President of The Skin Cancer Foundation. “Most nonmelanoma skin cancers are preventable, if a complete sun protection regimen is followed. This is why protecting sun-exposed areas, such as the ears, nose and lips, and learning the warning signs of these common skin cancers, is so important.”
Between 40 and 50 percent of Americans who live to age 65 will be diagnosed with either a BCC or an SCC at least once. The Skin Cancer Foundation urges everyone to learn the facts about nonmelanoma skin cancers:
Basal Cell Carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer, with an estimated 2.8 million diagnosed annually in the US.
- What causes it: BCC is usually caused by a combination of cumulative UV exposure and intense, occasional UV exposure, the kind you might experience on sunny vacations.
- Interesting fact: BCCs sometimes resemble noncancerous skin conditions such as psoriasis or eczema.
- What to look for: Warning signs include an open sore, a reddish patch or irritated area, a shiny bump or nodule, a pink growth, and a scar-like area.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma is the second most common form of skin cancer, with an estimated 700,000 cases diagnosed in the US each year, resulting in approximately 2,500 deaths.
- What causes it: SCC is mainly caused by cumulative UV exposure over the course of a lifetime.
- Interesting fact: SCCs are most common in areas frequently exposed to the sun, such as the rim of the ear, lower lip, face, bald scalp, neck, hands, arms and legs.
- What to look for: Warning signs include a scaly red patch, an elevated growth, an open sore, or a wart-like growth, and these lesions may sometimes bleed.
To properly protect against the dangers of skin cancer, follow The Skin Cancer Foundation’s Prevention Guidelines:
- Seek the shade, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM
- Do not burn.
- Avoid tanning and UV tanning booths.
- Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
- Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
- Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
- Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens should be used on babies over the age of six months.
- Examine your skin head-to-toe every month.
- See your physician every year for a professional skin exam. For more information, visit SkinCancer.org