If you’re a certain age, you probably remember two advertising icons, the Marlboro Man and the Coppertone Girl. The Marlboro Man represented the masculine Western mentality, including smoking unfiltered cigarettes.
The actual actor who portrayed the Marlboro Man died of lung cancer. Enough said.
During the same time, the Coppertone Girl was a young girl who sported a serious tan line to advertise Coppertone suntan lotions and oils. While we don’t know where the Coppertone Girl is today, there’s a good chance she’s had some issues with sun damaged skin, if not skin cancer.
As with the unknown former dangers of smoking, there’s no longer any secret about how the ultraviolet radiation of the sun damages our skin. Skin cancer isn’t an unknown commodity any longer. Most people know at least something about skin cancer and usually take some measures to help prevent it. But at Musick Dermatology we believe knowledge is the key, so here’s some other information on skin cancer.
Who is at risk?
Skin cancer tends to develop in people with light skin. It is estimated that from 40 to 50% of people with fair skin who live to be at least 65 years old will develop at least one skin cancer in their lives. As you would expect, the incidence of skin cancer is higher in places with intense sunshine, places such as Florida, Arizona, and Hawaii. Overall, skin cancer is most common in Australia, which was settled by fair-skinned people of English and Irish descent.
What causes skin cancer?
Exposure to sunlight is the main cause of skin cancer, but it has different effects in different skin cancers. The ultraviolet rays in sunshine are the culprits, as they can alter the genetic material in skin cells, causing them to mutate. Basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas are linked to the amount of sun exposure a person receives. Fair-skinned people who spend a good deal of time outdoors will likely develop one of these two carcinomas. Melanoma is a bit different. The development of melanoma is thought to be related to excessive sun exposure that results in scorching sunburns, the type that peel and blister. It is estimated that just one blistering sunburn during childhood doubles a person’s risk for developing melanoma later in life.
Melanin is the issue. Melanin is the pigment in the skin that helps protect the skin. The reason people tan is because that is the response of melanin to the sun exposure, darkening the skin. Fair-skinned people have less melanin in their skin, so they have less protection. Redheads, blue-eyed blonds, and others with very light skin have the highest incidence of skin cancers.
Know your ABCDEs
These five letters can come in handy when looking for skin cancers on your skin.
- Asymmetry — If one half of the mole doesn’t match the other half, that’s a concern. Normal moles are symmetrical.
- Border — If the border or edges of your mole are ragged, blurred, or irregular, that is a reason to call us at Musick Dermatology. Melanoma lesions often have irregular borders.
- Color — Normal moles are a single shade throughout. If your mole has changed color or if it has different shades of tan, brown, black, blue, white, or red, then it should be checked.
- Diameter — If a mole is larger than the eraser of a pencil it needs to be checked.
- Evolving — If a mole evolves by shrinking, growing larger, changing color, itching or bleeding, or other changes it should be checked. Melanoma lesions often grow in size or gain height rapidly.
While we may not have the endless sun in Swansea that they deal with in Scottsdale, that’s not to assume we’re not just as much at risk for skin cancer. We all need to be aware of the signs of skin cancer, and you should have Dr. Musick check your skin once every year. Call us at (618) 628-2588 to schedule your exam.