As the Summer nears, many of us are starting to plan our vacations in the sun, our trips to the beach, and all else that accompanies summer fun. Especially with the loosening of COVID lockdowns after being cooped up for over a year, the population is far more excited than usual to finally spend some time with friends in the summer sun. In spite of that excitement, it’s important to not throw caution completely to the wind and take the necessary preventative steps to be safe under the sun’s powerful UV rays. Using SPF sunblock, taking frequent breaks in the shade or indoors, and limiting your time in the sun are all easy-to-do, but often neglected ways to prevent skin cancer. There are various forms of skin cancer, such as squamous cell carcinoma, the second most common form of skin cancer in the US, and the deadly (and probably more well-known) melanoma. That’s not to say all cancer isn’t deadly if left untreated, but certain forms are far more dangerous, and timing is everything when it comes to getting it treated. Spending a lot of time in the sun without proper precaution can also lead to premature aging and wrinkles as well.
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the US, and it’s fairly common to know someone who’s had it at some point in their lives. This is especially common with the older generation, oftentimes due to lack of available literature and widespread knowledge of this health issue years ago. This is also because the less severe forms of skin cancer can result from cumulative sun exposure over one’s whole lifetime. Most non-melanoma skin cancers- primarily, basal and squamous cell, make up 95% of all US skin cancer cases, and can easily be treated when caught in time. Melanoma, on the other hand, accounts for 75% of skin cancer-caused deaths. To catch skin cancer early on, it’s important to be aware of what they can look like; basal cell presents as a “pearly”, smooth bump (almost like a white head pimple) on the face, or a pinkish-red or brown lesion on the upper torso, arms, or legs. Squamous presents as a red nodule or a lesion- these may bleed, itch, or appear crusty. Melanoma is especially insidious because it’s less obvious- it often looks like a mole. With the last form, be extra aware, take a second to see where the marks are on your skin, so you’ll know if a “mole” appears one day that you didn’t always have.
If you’ve spent time in the sun, be aware for marks that are unevenly colored, have indefinite (blurred) edges, if it begins to bleed, and especially if it begins to change size (more than 6mm). Usually, when caught early, most skin cancers can be dealt with relatively painlessly- often a quick visit to the dermatologist, and some local anesthetic when they remove it. Left untreated, they could metastasize, requiring major surgery, radiation, and chemo. In summation, everyone deserves to have fun this summer after what we’ve been through, but take the necessary precautions, and be conscientious of your body.