Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Cancer Prevention Week

Photo credit: tread

This week is Cancer Prevention Week. Since we’re entering the last month of summer and the temptation to enjoy the last days of summer outside is especially strong, I thought it would be appropriate to focus on skin cancer, which accounts for nearly half of all cancer cases within the United States and is usually sun-related.

First, some basic information:

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, with more than one million new cases per year. There are multiple types, including melanoma and non-melanoma (basal or squamous cell).

Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. It accounts for only a small portion of skin cancer (about 68,720 or 6.9% of total skin cancer cases per year) but comprises almost three-quarters (8,650) of the estimated 11,590 skin cancer deaths per year. The five-year survival rate is 99% for localized melanoma (meaning it has not spread to other parts of the body), 65% for regional stage and 16% for distant stage melanoma.

Basal or squamous cell skin cancer is the most common type of skin cancer; over one million of diagnoses each year fall into this category. It generally occurs on the sun-exposed areas of the body and rarely spreads to other parts of the body. It is highly curable if diagnosed and treated promptly.

And some tips to help you protect yourself:

Since the majority (more than one million) of non-melanoma cases are related to sun exposure, you should be sure to protect yourself from the sun by wearing sunscreen and covering your skin with clothing, hats, and sunglasses. This is true even in the winter—I got one of the worst sunburns I’ve ever had while skiing in February.

Also be aware of other factors that can increase your risk of skin cancer; you should be especially careful if any of these apply to you. They include a fair complexion, family history, abnormal moles, severe sunburns earlier in life, and repeated exposure to coal tar, pitch, creosote, arsenic compounds or radium.

Finally, be attentive to your skin and any changes in its appearance as these can indicate pre-cancerous or cancerous areas. Watch for new or atypical moles and lesions like the ones in this WebMd slideshow and tell your doctor right away if you notice anything unusual. Pre-cancerous spots can be removed fairly easily, and it’s much better to be safe than sorry.

Don't let us steal your sunshine—moderate sun exposure is good for you and provides a crucial source of vitamin D—but be sure to wear sunscreen!

Source: American Cancer Society Skin Cancer Facts Page. You can find more information about skin cancer and other types of cancer on the ACS website. Also be sure to check out Research!America's Cancer Fact Sheet.

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