May is skin cancer awareness month, an important time to reflect on the prevention methods for the most common cancerin the United States. While skin cancer is also one of the most preventable forms of cancer, its pervasiveness in our society is indicative of a lack of seriousness surrounding sun protection year-round, as well as a general lack of understanding within the public on how to properly check skin for warning signs. We know that in the midst of your busy life, it can be really difficult to keep skin health on your radar. Basking in the sun often feels wonderful, and the occasional sunburn or two -- or three -- seems pretty harmless. Unfortunately, these patterns of being just a little too careless about your skin health can lead to more serious consequences down the road- and everyone can use a little more knowledge when it comes to the risks and types of skin cancer.
If you have already found yourself as one of the millions of people diagnosed with skin cancer each year, you might be wondering what your first diagnosis means for your likelihood of developing another type or spot of skin cancer. There’s good news and bad news -- the bad news is that around 60 percent of people previously diagnosed with one skin cancer will be diagnosed with another within a decade. Additionally, if you have been diagnosed with two or more basal cell carcinoma (BCC) or squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), two major nonmelanoma types of skin cancer, your risk of developing another increases to 61% in just two years. But like we said! There is still good news. Knowledge is power- being aware of where you stand now and how to prevent any further damage to your skin is an important step towards optimal skin health!
Let’s lean into the science for a second- what even are BCC and SCC skin cancers?
Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are the two major nonmelanoma types of skin cancer. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer, comprising 8 out of every 10 skin cancer diagnoses. Basal cell carcinoma tends to occur on the areas of the body frequently exposed to the sun, particularly the face and neck. BCC starts in the lower part of the epidermis, the basal cell layer.
Squamous cell carcinoma begins in the upper layer of the epidermis, and is commonly found on the backs of the hand, ears, face, and neck. This type of skin cancer is more likely than BCC to grow into other parts of the body, but can usually be removed or treated completely.
So I have been diagnosed with BCC or SCC skin cancers- am I at higher risk for future skin cancer?
While being diagnosed with BCC or SCC skin cancers increases your likelihood of developing another skin cancer spot within this same category, it has also recently been shown to increase your likelihood of developing other unrelated forms of cancer, such as breast, prostate, and blood cancers. New research indicates that six or more diagnosed Basal cell skin cancers may be a portent for more serious types of cancer- up to a 3x increased likelihood than those who had never been diagnosed with BCC.
It’s important to understand your own risk level of falling into this group of repeat diagnoses. Ask yourself a few questions: Have you been sunburned often? Were you a tanning bed user? Do you have a family history of skin cancer? Are you primarily Irish or English? All of these factors can increase your likelihood of being diagnosed with skin cancer- but it doesn’t mean that your future risk level is completely out of your hands.
Early Detection of BCC and SCC skin cancers is crucial
Detection is critical. Skin cancer detected early and quickly is usually of little concern. However, skin cancer can be a big concern, when left to grow larger or when there is a clear pattern of skin cancer that might indicate your immune system has been compromised due to extensive sun damage.
Fortunately, it isn’t all gloom and doom- there are many ways to take agency over your skin health and lay a strong foundation to decrease your current and future risk of skin cancer development. Commitment to your skin health is vital to a healthy and prevention-minded lifestyle, and it’s never too late to implement new habits. Now that you have had a crash course in the basics, here are a few essential tips to up your skin health game:
Find a Dermatologist you trust
If you have developed skin cancer or are at-risk to develop it, make sure to find a dermatologist that specializes in skin cancer, if possible, and can aid you in early detection. A professional skin exam will help you to understand where you are at in terms of skin damage and how to prioritize prevention and repair moving forward.
Use a broad spectrum SPF sunscreen daily
The Daily by GetMr was created to give men an easy and high quality option for daily sunscreen, as dermatologists agree that wearing sunscreen every day, year-round, whatever the weather, is an essential part of skin health and skin cancer prevention. Regular sunscreen use has also been shown to reduce signs of aging by 24% and reduce development of SCC by 40%, based on a 2013 study in Australia. The Daily is a weightless medical-grade sunscreen that doubles as an aftershave, and wearing it every day can help to reduce up to 90% of skin damage and up to 40% of skin cancer risk. If you’re ready to get serious about your skin health and cancer-risk prevention, The Daily by GetMr is the perfect place to start.
A broad-brimmed hat, UV-blocking sunglasses, and UPF shirts are all important options for when you are out in the sun during the heat of the day (10am-4pm). Dark or bright colors offer better protection than light or white, and densely woven cloth will also help to reduce UV penetration. Loose-fitting, high-coverage clothing is also preferable, but know that when clothes get wet, they become more transparent and therefore more susceptible to UV penetration.
The “tan” look you love from laying in the sun -- or even worse, a tanning bed-- is actually a visible sign of damage to the skin. Instead of laying under harmful UV rays, try using a safe, organic fake-tan product to achieve that sun-kissed look. A ‘base tan” will not stop future sunburns or skin damage- every type of tan is a visible sign of sun damage to skin cells.