It may seem odd that we’re writing a blog about skin cancer when autumn has fully set in, but that’s exactly the reason for it. Most people know that skin cancer is primarily caused by sun damage, so it’s in the back of their minds throughout the summer when they’re spending much of their free time outdoors. But sun exposure is just as dangerous during the cooler months, therefore it’s important not to put your skin protection on the back burner. Skin cancer is the result of accumulated sun damage over time, but as convenient as it would be to say “this is how many hours of sun exposure it takes to develop skin cancer,” the fact is that everyone’s skin has a different amount of damage it can tolerate (naturally depending on a number of unique risk factors). To help you know and take control of your risk factors, we’ve compiled ten common elements to consider:
- Skin Type
Pigment in your skin serves as a barrier to absorb light before it reaches and damages the deeper layers of skin. In other words, the lighter your skin color, the more damage you tend to sustain. This is particularly true for people who have lighter skin along with light-colored eyes and naturally blond or red hair.
Generally, the older a person is, the more sun damage they have accumulated in their lifetime. However, there has been a recent surge in melanoma amongst young adults (even those in their 20s), so never take your skin’s health for granted.
Overall, men have a higher rate of skin cancer in the US than women do but interestingly enough, this is affected by your age as well. Among those under age 50, women have a higher risk of skin cancer, whereas men have a higher risk in those over the age of 50.
Exposure to arsenic increases your likelihood of developing skin cancer, which means the risk is higher for people who work with certain insecticides as well as those exposed to industrial tar, coal, paraffin, and certain oils.
- Medical History
If you’ve had skin cancer in the past, it means you’re at a higher risk of developing it again. However, your chances are also increased if your medical history includes radiation therapy (such as the type used to treat cancer), a significant number of sunburns, actinic keratoses (pre-cancerous skin lesions), and certain immune conditions (see #7 for more details).
- Family History
Unfortunately, skin cancer susceptibility does tend to run in families. Researchers have discovered a number of genetic situations which cause a higher risk for the disease, including certain hereditary conditions like xeroderma pigmentosum, basal cell nevus syndrome, and familial atypical multiple mole syndrome (FAMMM). Even without any diagnosed genetic conditions, if there is a history of melanoma in your family, you have a higher risk as well.
- Immune Deficiency
If your immune system is compromised, your body is less able to repair and fight off sun damage. This includes people with weakened immune systems due to anti-rejection medications after an organ transplant, as well as those with immune-compromising diseases like HIV/AIDS.
It may not come as a surprise that that smoking carries a significant risk for lung cancer, but it’s important to note that it also has been identified as a risk factor for a certain type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma.
While simply having a mole (or many moles) is not a reason for panic, it has been found that people with a higher-than-average number of moles are more likely to develop skin cancer. This is another important reason to regularly see a board-certified dermatologist or dermatological physician assistant for cancer screenings, especially if you have abnormal moles, called dysplastic nevi.
People tend to sustain more sun damage if they live in sunny climates (like Georgia) or higher altitudes.
Wondering what you should do if some of these risk factors apply to you? Fortunately, skin cancer is highly treatable, especially if it’s diagnosed quickly, so it’s all about early detection and future prevention. It is recommended that everyone (children and adults alike) receive annual skin cancer screenings from a board-certified dermatologist in addition to monthly self-checks, although patients with a higher risk are typically recommended to receive their screenings more frequently. If you’re ready to take control of your skin health, schedule a skin cancer screening at Dermatology Associates of Atlanta. For more health tips and all our special savings offers, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.