The weather is heating up and summer is fast approaching in Las Vegas, NV and with summer in the desert southwest comes prolonged sunshine and insanely high temperatures. Both of which raise concerns about skin cancer and sun exposure in the Las Vegas Valley. Being that the temperature in Nevada has the tendency to sky-rocket and that summer lasts longer than any season here, we already have reasons to worry about skin cancer without already having to worry about the fact that skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States anyway. That being said, southwest states are at highest risk of the disease, therefore we must take precautions and prepare for the hot season just around the corner.
In this blog we will go over the fundamentals of skin before we go further into detail regarding skin cancer, the types, the causes, and the signs.
Before we can begin to understand skin cancer we must first understand the basic fundamentals of skin. Did you know that your skin is an organ? Well it is.. and more than that, your skin is one of the largest organs of your body! Skin serves a variety of different purposes, but most importantly it is known for providing your body with protection. This protection can vary from simply protecting your inside organs from exposure to infection or injury to protecting your body from becoming dehydrated and losing or gaining unwanted body temperature.
The pigments of skin that produce color are from cells called melanocytes. Melanocytes make melanin which determines the lightness or darkness of skin. What causes our skin to change color when exposed to the sun is called the “tanning response.” Melanin protects the skin from damaging radiation by spreading the radiation around and in term, darkening the skin. However, sometimes having your skin protection system isn’t enough to fight off the harmful effects of sun exposure and that is when skin cancer occurs.
SKIN CANCER TYPES
There are two types of skin cancer: Melanoma which is the least common, but more serious and more likely to spread type, and Non-Melanoma which is the more common, but less serious and less likely to spread type. Skin cancer can be found to occur more on the parts of the body that are most exposed to the sun such as; the neck, face, hands, arms, shoulders, and back. Men are more likely to have skin cancer on their chest, while women are more likely to have skin cancer on their legs.
Melanoma: A small, dark patch similar to a mole that can vary in appearance. Melanomas can develop on most all areas of the body but are more common on areas exposed to the sun. They spread quickly and are more serious than any other form of skin cancer. If untreated they will bleed, itch, become crusty, and ulcerate. Melanoma is the most common form of skin cancer for individuals aged 15-35, but the least common form of skin cancer for the elderly. Women are twice as likely to develop Melanoma than men.
- Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC): A small, red or pink, dome-shaped lump that can vary in size and color. Most bleed, appear crusty, and ulcerate if untreated. They are typically found on the face and hands. BCCs grow incredibly slow, rarely spread, and are usually treatable. Basal Cell Carcinoma is the most common skin cancer among Caucasian and fair-skinned individuals and the elderly.
- Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC): A small, scaly, red or pink, wart-shaped lump that can vary in size and color similar to BCCs. They have the tendency to bleed occasionally and ulcerate as well. They typically develop on the face around the ears and lips. SCCs are more likely to spread and if left untreated can damage facial features. Squamous Cell Carcinoma is the second most common skin cancer among Caucasian and fair-skinned individuals. Similar to BCCs, SCCs are more common among elderly people.
Ultraviolet radiation can come from two different sources, one being tanning beds and the other being the sun. Overexposure to ultraviolet rays may cause changes to skin cells that alter their predetermined behavior which results in cancer. A common misconception is that tanning booths are safer for you than direct sunlight, when in fact it is the exact opposite as tanning booths use more harmful ultraviolet rays than the sun gives off. Tanning beds have been associated with all types of skin cancers listed above but have been proven to increase the likelihood of developing Melanoma specifically.
Sun exposure is inevitable thus exposure to ultraviolet rays is inevitable as well. The sun’s ultraviolet rays damage the layers of your skin in immeasurable ways that make it more difficult for your body’s defense system to operate. Another common misconception is that people who burn are more susceptible to skin cancer than people who tan, when in fact being in the sun too often for too long can lead to skin cancer whether you burn or not.
Determining whether you have skin cancer can be as simple as analyzing moles for color, shape, and size. Stop and take a look at a pre-existing mole on your body. What color is it? What shape and size is it? More than likely your mole is a variation of brown, and it is rounded at no larger than ¼ of an inch. The ABCDE rule allows you to better understand and remember how truly simple it can be to distinguish your pre-existing moles from cancerous ones.
A for Asymmetry: A mole that is irregular shaped rather than rounded.
B for Border: A mole with edges that are undefined or jagged rather than well-defined.
C for Color: A mole that changes in color or appears pink, red, purple, grey, or white rather than a shade of brown.
D for Diameter: A mole larger than 1/4 inch in diameter (the average mole size) or continues to grow.
E for Elevation: A mole that is raised above the skin and appears to be uneven rather than flat and smooth.
Remember that if at any point you notice any of these signs that you seek medical treatment!
Malignancies of the skin such as skin cancer are the most commonly diagnosed type of cancer across the world. UV radiation and sun exposure remain the leading cause of skin cancer and unfortunately sun exposure can only be limited not eliminated. It is recommended that you cover your skin as much as possible yet despite taking the necessary precautions more than one million people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year. If at any point you notice any of the signs listed above, seek medical treatment immediately!
Dermatologists such as Desert Dermatology have advanced treatments available for the prevention and treatment of skin cancer as well. Call (702) 233 – GLOW (4569) for more information on what we can do for you in preparing for the desert climate heat that is upon us.