Taking inventory of your skin

It is important that when tanning outside, you lay in the shade, or wear a hat to protect your face from the sun.

This year alone, there will be over 1,400 newly diagnosed cases of skin cancer in Arizona.

According to a National Cancer Institute study, the rates of cancer are overall going down, except for skin cancer. There are two categories of skin cancer: melanoma and nonmelanoma. Non-melanoma skin cancer includes Basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and Merkel cell carcinoma.

1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, and approximately 80% of cases go unreported. There is an increasing trend of skin cancer in young people. For woman ages 15-29, melanoma is the second most common form of cancer. Deadly skin cancer cases have risen 50 percent, in the past 10 years, in Arizona. And non- invasive skin cancer cases have doubled in the past 10 years.

Reported cases of Melanoma from 2004-2013 from the University of Arizona Cancer Center.

Lisa Quale is the Senior Health Educator at the University of Arizona Cancer Center Skin Cancer Institute. Quale’s main concern is that people don’t understand how serious skin cancer can be, “While melanoma is usually the only life-threatening skin cancer, basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers are also serious. Treating them can be very painful and disfiguring!” she said.

Skin is a living organ and has three layers: epidermis, dermis, and fat. It is important to take care of your skin by applying sunscreen every day, wearing things like hats and shirts with sleeves while in the sun, and avoiding indoor tanning.

Tanning beds have both UVA rays (which causes aging) and UVB rays (which causes burning), and is concentrated sunlight in a short amount of time.

When it comes to sunscreen, it is important to use at least SPF 30. SPF stands for “sun protection factor.” At SPF 30, you have 97 percent protection from the sun, and at SPF 50, you have 99 percent.

“It is important to use SPF 30, but anything over that doesn’t really matter as long as you apply every two hours,” said Megan Murphy, a recent graduate of Cal Polytechnic State University, and is currently finishing her residency in Phoenix, AZ and is specializing in dermatology.

Sunscreen should be applied every two hours– dermatologists recommend SPF 30,.

Quale advises that when looking for sunscreen, you find one with one of the following ingredients: Zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, avobenzone, or mexoryl. These ingredients are the “most effective at blocking out/absorbing both UVA and UVB rays from the sun,” said Quale.

Chad Adams, the assistant director of cancer clinical research at the Arizona Cancer Center, stresses having a strong immune system as a way to prevent skin cancer.

“Make sure you do all you can, to have the strongest immune system you can, because our immune system is a huge primary check point for managing all cancers in our body, not just skin, said Adams.

It is true that someone with darker pigmented skin is generally more resistant then someone who is fairer skin, but “no one is immune, I think that is the biggest misconception people have, once your immune system is shot, it doesn’t matter the pigment of your skin, you don’t have way to fight cancer,” said Adams.

The upside of skin cancer is that is easy to detect early–the patients hold the power.

“In skin cancer the patient has the power to prevent it, to be observant, to diagnose it early, treat it early that isn’t the case in other cancers,” said Adams.

Murphy suggests that everyone “take inventory” of your skin on a monthly basis.

“All it takes is a mirror and a hand mirror. Take inventory of any dot on your skin, then use the hand mirror to see your back and neck,” said Murphy.

The most common missed spots people don’t check are the soles of the feet and behind your ears.

There are guidelines for determining whether or not a spot is cancerous or concerning, they are called the A, B, C, D, E’s. A stands for asymmetrical—if one side is different from the other, it is concerning. B stands for border. If it is not a clear border, it is not a good sign. C stands for color, and moles should be one color, if you notice your spot is more then one color, it is potentially cancerous. D stands for diameter, if the spot is bigger then a pencil eraser—see a dermatologist. E stands for evolving, if the spot is changing, also go and see a dermatologist.

Rachael Vargas is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at rachaelvargas@email.arizona.edu.

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