The skin is not just the soft, outer covering that protects our organs from injury. It is the largest organ of the body. It provides a barrier against germs and prevents the loss of fluid. The skin helps to control body temperature and provides the mechanisms for us to feel temperature, touch and pain sensations.
Considering everything that our skin does, it would make sense to protect it from unnecessary harm. Instead, many of us subject our skin to unprotected exposure to harmful radiation from the sun and/or tanning beds. Exposure to UV rays is the leading cause of skin cancer. Skin cancer is cancer of skin cells and it is the only cancer that can be seen on the skin.
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), the most common form of cancer is skin cancer, which includes both non-melanoma and melanoma cancer.
The two major types of non-melanoma cancer are basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas. Unless they occur in immune compromised people or if diagnosed at a very late stage, these cancers, unlike melanoma, are rarely fatal.
These cancers usually occur in areas that are most likely to be exposed to UV rays from the sun and include the head, neck, face, ears and hands. Although rarely fatal, early diagnosis and treatment is required to prevent the spread of the cancer to surrounding tissue and/or organs that may cause scarring, disfigurement or loss of function.
According to ACS, melanomas can develop anywhere on the body, but are more likely to occur on the chest or back in men and on the legs in women.
Knowing what to look for is key in detecting melanoma and other skin cancers in the earliest stages when they are most curable. By performing monthly self-examination of the skin, you may learn to recognize new or changing moles, spots and blemishes. Moles are usually benign tumors, but new moles or changes in size, appearance or surface of a mole could indicate the need to see your healthcare provider. A yearly cancer check-up should include a professional skin examination.
You can still enjoy the sun while protecting yourself from its harmful rays. Avoid exposure during the hours of 10 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon. ACS recommends that you slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen, slap on a hat and wrap on sunglasses to protect your eyes and the delicate skin around the eyes. For more information on skin cancer, visit www.cancer.org.