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Skin Cancer 101: Staying Safe and Spotting the Signs

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer by far, according to the American Cancer Society. This statistic makes sense — skin is the human body’s largest organ, with 22 square feet in total. With so much surface area comes increased risk, but how much do you know about skin cancer?
There are not one, not two, but seven types of skin cancer outlined by the American Academy of Dermatology Association. The three most common are basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and melanoma. Melanoma is infamous for being the most harmful of the three, due to its tendency to spread.
Some things are true for all types of skin cancer — protective measures can be taken and early diagnosis is critical. Read on to learn more details about keeping your skin safe.

Managing Risks

One of the biggest risks when it comes to developing skin cancer is sun exposure. This can come in many shapes and forms — continued exposure that has added up over the years or one instance of extreme exposure. Everything from tanned skin to blistering sunburn can contribute to skin cancer
It’s also important to note that exposure isn’t just limited to natural sunlight. Artificial rays can be just as harmful for skin and increase your risk for cancer. Tanning beds have been a popular destination for years, but only in more recent decades has this activity been exposed for its extreme skin cancer risk.
One of the risks that is out of your direct control is family history. Genetics play a part in many different illnesses and cancers, and skin cancer is no different. If members of your family have been diagnosed with skin cancer, there is a higher likelihood that you too may develop it at some point.

Taking Precautions

The biggest skin cancer risk that is within your control is sun exposure. Luckily, there are many tips and tricks available to keep out of the sunlight — or be safer when outdoors and sun exposure is unavoidable. Sunscreen is often the best place to start.
Sunscreen has been around for decades, but modern day options are more advanced than ever before. You can get sunscreen in spray, cream, and stick form. They’re also available in a variety of different brands to accommodate sensitive skin and preferences in scent.
Varying degrees of sun protection are available, commonly referred to as SPF. Another term you’ll see is “broad spectrum,” which is essential to protect from both UVA and UVB rays. Regardless of which sunscreen you use, the key is to apply it correctly — and reapply often. You’ll also want to make sure it’s waterproof.
Beyond sunscreen, there are other ways to protect yourself. You can spend more time outside in shaded areas, especially with kids who have extremely sensitive skin. Clothes can also be used as protection, with longer sleeves, hats, and blankets available to cover up more skin.
Obviously tanning beds should be avoided, but another unexpected culprit is window exposure. Many car windows don’t adequately protect from the sun’s rays, so you’ll want to be careful on long trips and still wear sunscreen. The Skin Cancer Foundation also lists UV window film as a solution to this problem.

Catching Warning Signs

So what can you do if you suspect skin cancer on your body? Moles are the most common way for melanoma to show up, but not all moles are cancerous. There are a few easy ways to assess if your mole is cause for concern. The American Academy of Dermatology Association calls them the ABCDEs of melanoma.
The A stands for asymmetry, one half looking different than the other is more likely to be melanoma. B is for border — a less defined border could be cancerous. Color is letter C, and multiple colors is more risky. The letter D is for diameter, because in most cases of melanoma the mole is larger than six millimeters across. Last is letter E, which stands for evolving. If your mole is changing shape, size, or color then it should be checked out.
The next steps for someone who suspects skin cancer include seeing a specialist and going through a screening. The National Cancer Institute outlines what is included in the screening process. At a doctor’s instruction, biopsy and potential treatment could follow.
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