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Skin Cancer: Outlining who Is affected, risk factors and how to protect yourself
General Wellness

Skin Cancer: Outlining who Is affected, risk factors and how to protect yourself

By Samuel Riney, MD, Medical Oncology/Hematology
Posted: June 4, 2021

As temperatures rise and we’re drawn outside for a healthy dose of vitamin D, it’s important to remember to protect your body’s largest organ – your skin!

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in United States. In fact, it’s estimated that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.

What’s the most common cause? Damage from the sun’s ultra violet (UV) radiation. Let’s dive into to who is affected, risk factors and how you can protect yourself.  

Who is at risk for skin cancer?

Everyone. Approximately 9,500 people are diagnosed with skin cancer daily and it can affect anyone, regardless of skin color.

Annual Incidence Rate of Melanoma

  • 28 per 100,000 Non-Hispanic Caucasians
  • 5 per 100000 in Hispanics
  • 1 per 100000 in African Americans

While Non-Hispanic Caucasians have a higher incidence rate of skin cancer, patients with skin of color are often diagnosed in later stages, when it is more difficult to treat. People with skin of color are also prone to skin cancer in areas that are not commonly exposed to sun — like the palms of hands, sole of feet, groin, inside of the mouth and under the nails.

Are there different types of skin cancer?

Yes! There are a numerous types of skin cancer. We’ll outline some here.

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common type of skin cancer. It often develops on people with fair skin. Basal cell carcinomas are characterized by a flesh-colored round growth, pearl-like bump or a pinkish patch of skin and commonly found on the head, neck and arms. However, they can form anywhere on the body.

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common type of skin cancer. People who have fair skin are most likely to develop this type of skin cancer. However, it can also develop in people with skin of color. Squamous cell carcinoma is often characterized by a red firm bump, scaly patch or a sore that heals and then re-opens. It commonly forms on areas of the body frequently exposed to the sun, such as the ear, face, neck and arms.

Melanoma is known for being deadliest form of skin cancer due to its tendency to spread. It can develop within a mole that you already have — or appear suddenly as a dark spot on the skin that looks different from the rest.

Other more rare types of skin cancer include cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans (DFSP), merkel cell carcinoma and sebaceous carcinoma. Visit the American Academy of Dermatology Association to learn more.

What are survival rates of skin cancer?

Non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC) such as basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas — the two most common forms of skin cancer — are highly treated if detected early and treated properly.

The five-year survival rate for people whose melanoma is detected and treated before it spread to lymph nodes is 92%. The five-year survival rate for melanoma that spread to nearby lymph nodes is 65%. The five-year survival rate for melanoma that spread to distant lymph nodes and other organs is 25%.

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What are the risk factors for skin cancer?

Exposure to natural and artificial ultraviolet light

The majority of melanoma cases are attributable to UV exposure. Sunburns during childhood or adolescence can increase the odds of developing melanoma later in life. Experiencing five or more blistering sunburns between ages 15 and 20 increases one’s melanoma risk by 80% and nonmelanoma skin cancer risk by 68%.

Exposure to tanning beds increases the risk of all skin cancers — including melanoma —especially in women 45 and younger. Researchers estimate that indoor tanning may cause upwards of 400,000 cases of skin cancer in the U.S. each year.

Skin that burns easily; blond or red hair

A weakened immune system

A personal or family history of skin cancer

People with more than 50 moles, atypical moles or large moles are at an increased risk of developing melanoma

How can I detect skin cancer?

Perform regular skin self-exams to check for signs of skin cancer. Self-exams are important because nearly half of melanomas are self-detected.

Melanoma can be detected by looking for the American Academy of Dermatology’s ABCDE warning signs:

  • A is for Asymmetry: One half of the spot is unlike the other half.
  • B is for Border: The spot has an irregular, scalloped, or poorly defined border.
  • C is for Color: The spot has varying colors from one area to the next, such as shades of tan, brown or black, or areas of white, red, or blue.
  • D is for Diameter: While melanomas are usually greater than 6 millimeters, or about the size of a pencil eraser, when diagnosed, they can be smaller.
  • E is for Evolving: The spot looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape, or color.

A dermatologist can make individual recommendations as to how often a person needs a skin exam from a doctor based on individual risk factors, including skin type, history of sun exposure and family history.

How is skin cancer treated?

Treatment varies by type and size of skin cancer. Common options include removal, radiation therapy, light therapy, freezing, topical treatments and systemic therapy (immunotherapy, targeted therapy, chemotherapy).

Basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas can usually be removed with simple surgery.

Melanomas usually require more extensive surgery to remove the lesion and a large area around it. Lymph nodes and CT scans should be checked for metastatic disease in many cases.

How can I prevent skin cancer?

Because exposure to UV light is the most preventable risk factor for all skin cancers, the American Academy of Dermatology encourages you to stay out of indoor tanning beds and protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays by seeking shade, wearing protective clothing and hats and using a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, reapplying every two hours or after swimming — all year long.

And because severe sunburns during childhood and adolescence may increase one’s risk of melanoma, children should be especially protected from the sun.