While breast, lung, and colon cancer receive far more national attention, skin cancer actually ranks as the most common form of the disease in the U.S. In fact, each year there are more cases of skin cancer than lung, colon, breast, and prostate cancer combined, according the American Cancer Society, and one out of five Americans will receive a skin cancer diagnosis sometime during their lifetime. And while our cloudy skies and cool weather may convince you otherwise, skin cancer in Salem, Oregon is just as likely as the sun drenched streets of L.A., Phoenix, or Dallas.
To keep your skin safe as we transition from spring into summer, here’s what our patients at the Dermatology Clinic need to know about skin cancer.
Understanding Your Risk
Skin cancer is a term that includes a variety of conditions, such as basal cell, melanoma, and squamous cell. Basal and squamous cell rank as the most common forms of the disease while also being the easiest to treat.
Conversely, malignant melanoma possesses far more serious consequences for patients and can be difficult to treat.
“Melanoma is on type of skin cancer, and though it represents about one percent of all skin cancer, melanoma causes the most skin cancer deaths,” writes the Dermatology Clinic’s own Dr. Erik Kokkonen in an article published in the Statesman Journal.
Early detection is the key to treating melanoma before the disease has a chance to progress into a life-threatening condition. The earlier a diagnosis is made, the higher a patient’s survival rate becomes. This makes it important that patients realize they don’t need to live in one of the sunnier states to be at risk of skin cancer.
“One of the biggest misconceptions is that since Oregon has fewer sunny days than many U.S. [states], sun exposure is not a big deal,” explains Dr. Kokkonen.
“While other types of skin cancer are developed with UV light exposure over time, one risk factor for melanoma is brief, intermittent blasts of sun resulting in severe sunburns. It has been estimated that the risk of melanoma doubles with more than five lifetime sunburns. The American Cancer Society estimates that 1,580 Oregonians will develop melanoma this year, with more than 150 deaths.”
Understanding your risk of skin cancer is one way patients can ensure they receive the early care needed to successfully treat the disease. Through regular screenings and exams, you can spot the signs of melanoma before the disease has a chance to progress.
“Most melanomas are black or brown, though less commonly they can be red, pink, or skin colored. Sometimes they develop from a pre-existing mole, while other time they are new spots. Dermatologists often use the acronym “ABCDE” when evaluating a mole: Asymmetric, irregular Borders, multiple Colors, larger Diameters and Evolving.”
Using these criteria, our team at Salem Dermatology can help patients dealing with skin cancer in Salem, Oregon.
Potential Risk Factors for Skin Cancer
Of course, spending time outdoors isn’t the only potential risk factor skin cancer. In addition to sunburns, Dr. Kokkonen warns potential factors can include:
- Tanning bed exposure
- Family history of melanoma
- Increased number of moles and abnormal moles
- Lighter skin, hair and eye color
- Age (though melanomas are one of the most-common types of cancer in people under the age of 30)
- Weakened immune system
You can successful lower your risk of skin cancer by:
- Avoid peak sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Daily use of broad-spectrum SPF 30+ sunscreen, with reapplication every 90 to 120 minutes, when in the sun.
- Avoid tanning beds.
- Check skin monthly for new moles or changes in existing moles
- Consult a dermatologist with any questions or if you are worried about any of your moles.