Although summer is winding down, there are still plenty of daylight hours left especially in the southern states. Many people, particularly aging seniors, are not aware how easy it is to get skin cancer. My mother spent a lot of time outdoors all her life, and in her later years developed skin cancer on her face. She had about a Nichol-size circle taken off her cheek near her nose and mouth when she was in her sixties that proved to be cancerous. Fortunately, they were able to remove all the cancer.
Your skin type is the best barometer of whether or not you may be susceptible to skin cancer. People who are light-skinned are more likely to get sunburned and run the risk of developing skin cancer, specifically melanoma. But, tanning also causes skin damage and can increase your risks of the disease.
There are basically six types of skin types. You can predict how susceptible to skin cancer you are by identifying your type of skin you have:
- Very light-skinned – You never get a tan, but always get sunburned when you spend any amount of time in the sun. If you’re type 1, you’re at extremely high risk for melanoma (a deadly skin cancer) or other cancers such as basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas.
- Fair-skinned – You can manage to tan, but it’s difficult – and a sunburn is much more likely. You should wear sunscreen with a high SPF and check yourself periodically to make sure you’re not burning.
- Medium-skinned – You can tan or burn easily in the sun and are susceptible to skin damage and skin cancers. Wear a sunscreen when outside and get an annual physical checkup to be sure you have no worrisome growths.
- Darker skin — If you tan easily and not likely to burn, you’re probably a type 4 skin type. You should still wear a sunscreen and check yourself for suspicious growths.
- Dark skin— You tan very easily and seldom burn. A very serious form of melanoma – acral lentiginous – is common among those with darker skin and those who tan easily, so again, check yourself for growths.
- Very dark skin – You may not burn, but you’re still at risk for skin cancer and you should definitely wear a sunscreen. Some melanomas often appear on the lighter skinned areas of soles of feet and palms, so check those areas for growths.
Don’t forget about your eyeswhen you seek protection from the sun. Wear glasses that protect you from the UV rays of the sun. Keep in mind that there are also medications that can increase your risk for skin cancer. Any medicines that lower your immunity to diseases and drugs such as birth control pills, certain antibiotics, tricyclic antidepressants, diuretics, some anti-inflammatory medications and tetracycline or sulfa drugs can increase the risk.
Also, check your skin. If you have irregular or large moles – or many moles, check with your doctor to see if any are suspicious. If you were treated for skin cancer in the past, be sure and get regular checkups to see if it’s returned. Those with freckles may also be at risk.
People who live at high altitudes receive more UV radiation and may be more at risk, as do those who live or spend a great deal of time in tropical or subtropical zones. Avid gardeners and swimmers may have more sun damage –and check to see if your family has a history of cancers – especially skin cancer.
Caution is wise when dealing with skin cancer, so check out your skin type, history, medications or medical conditions to see if you’re at risk – and always wear sunscreen.