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Healthy Summer Skin: Sun Protection from Skin Cancer

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Skin Cancer 101

Skin cancer is divided into two main categories: nonmelanomas and melanoma.

Nonmelanomas are either basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma. Basal cell carcinoma begins at the epidermis, which is the top layer of the skin, and is typically found on sun-exposed areas such as the scalp, ears, neck, shoulders, back, hands, and face. Most grow slowly and don't usually spread to other parts of the body unless they're not treated. Squamous cell carcinoma also starts in the epidermis and most often occurs in the same sun-exposed areas. This type of cancer is more likely to spread to other parts of the body if left untreated. Both basal and squamous cell carcinomas have about a 95 percent cure rate if caught and treated early.

Melanoma is cancer of the melanin cells, which give skin a tan or brown color and help protect it from the sun. Melanoma is generally diagnosed on a scale of I to IV. Early melanomas, or stages I and II, are usually localized and often completely curable by simply removing the cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, the five-year survival rate for these stages is 99 percent. Advanced melanomas, or stages III and IV, have metastasized, or spread, to regional tissues or other parts of the body. For melanoma that's spread to the regional (or close) surrounding area, the survival rate is 65 percent.

Stay Out of the Tanning Salon

"The only safe tan comes in a bottle," says Ariel Ostad, MD, a clinical professor of dermatology at the New York University School of Medicine. Here are some frightening facts about tanning salons and your skin, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

  • People who use tanning beds are 2.5 times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma and 1.5 times more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma than people who avoid them.
  • New high-pressure sunlamps emit doses of ultraviolet (UV) radiation that can be 15 times more powerful than the sun's.

A skin self-exam can save your life. To find out how to do one and to see what melanoma, basal cell, and squamous cell carcinomas look like, go to the link below.

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, June 2007.

 

 

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