Real Simple magazine has just published a very interesting article on skin cancer. Primarily focused on Squamous cell carcinoma, (SCC), and Basal cell carcinoma, (BCC), the publication quoted some pretty alarming statistics about these close cousins to Melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, SCC makes up about 20 per cent of skin cancer diagnoses in America, and BCC accounts for almost 80 percent, making it the most common form of skin cancer for both men and women.

The good news is that these cancers tend to grow slowly so as long as you go for regular (at least once a year) check-ups with your dermatologist, you are very likely to catch any problems in the early stages before anything becomes difficult to remove and requires extensive surgery.

Most often Moh’s micrographic surgery is used to remove trouble spots. This is where one thin layer is removed at a time until the tissue shows no sign of containing any cancerous cells. This is done as an outpatient procedure and once the tissue is clear, the procedure is complete. The great news is that Moh’s surgery is 98% successful. Once the site has healed there is very little sign that anything was ever amiss.

It really all starts with early sun protection and regular self examinations at home every month. The occurrence BCC’s and SCC’s has risen significantly in women under the age of 40. Indoor tanning is the biggest culprit but also incidental sun exposure on a daily basis. (Running errands, driving, walking short distances.) Another factor is the misconception that a covering of tinted moisturizer or make-up with an SPF15 will do the trick. Not even close. An SPF of at least 30 is an absolute must, regardless of weather and climate, and make-up, tinted or full, needs to be applied on top. Don’t forget the ears, back of the neck and chest. Very high SPF’s can irritate the skin and don’t offer a significant amount of extra protection but up to factor 45 works well and if you have sensitive skin, try a physical block that only contains titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.
It is very easy to mistake these skin cancers for pimples, so here is what to look for. Painful or itchy lesions, pimples that erupt, bleed, heal and then return. Crusty patches that look like dry skin, are waxy or pearly in appearance, growths with elevated borders and indented centers. Bear in mind that no matter what your race or skin color, you have upwards of a 40 per cent chance of developing one of these cancers by the age of 65. And they do reoccur.mole checks

The other advantage of regular check-ups is that it will allow the dermatologist to keep an eye out for melanoma as well. All this scary stuff is so preventable. Always keep a large brimmed hat in the car and when driving, wear lightweight gloves to protect the hands and a sun-proofed scarf to protect the chest. Any time something looks suspicious, don’t wait to get it checked. It is worth that extra doctor’s visit to be on the safe side.

I know we have only just launched into Springtime, and the sun has been heavily mingled with the rain recently, but let’s recap on a few tips regarding sun protection. It is always a good thing to get a head start on these things in my opinion.

Skin cancer can originate on any part of the body, but some of the most common areas are the nose, ears, upper backs of men and women and the legs of women because of the high incidence of sun burns in these areas. One or more blistering sunburns in childhood or adolescence more than doubles a person’s chance of developing melanoma in later life but the good news is the survival rate for patients whose melanoma is detected early – before the tumor has penetrated the skin – is about 99%. For those whose melanoma is advanced, the survival rate is much lower, about 15%. The Mayo clinic is currently building a melanoma vaccine to help combat skin cancer from the inside out. Called cancer immunotherapy it is already showing some promising results and may help to improve the above statistics in the future.

Meanwhile, here are a few important tips to keep you safe. First and foremost, wear a daily SPF and get checked by your dermatologist at least once a year – a full body examination.

Remember to apply your sunscreen 20-30 minutes before exposure, on top of your day creme and under your make-up. For longer periods of exposure, re-apply regularly and generously depending on how long you are outdoors and the sensitivity of your skin. Special Note: water renders most sunscreens ineffective so always re-apply after swimming. Also, apply a good dose of common sense to being outside – use hats, wear long sleeves, stay in the shade, avoid the mid-day sun and on long drives, wear cotton gloves to protect the hands. Remember that SPF 30 blocks 96.6% of the sun’s rays. Higher SPF’s are often more expensive, give a false sense of security, only provide 2-4% extra protection and can be irritating.

Finally, include anti-oxidants in your diet and in your topical skin care regimes. Vitamins E and C, peptides, hyaluronic acid and ceramides strengthen the skin’s natural resistance to the sun, and  vegetables containing beta carotene, apricots, tomatoes, green tea and fish oils reduce inflammation and sensitivity. For women, mineral cosmetics provide another layer of protection.

Self tanning lotions have come a long way in recent years. They smell better, look a lot more natural and offer a much safer way of achieving a golden hue in the summer months. When you have a fit of nostalgia and start thinking about those old fashioned sun bathing sessions just remind yourself that the sun is on the top of the list as far as aging is concerned. I think we all saw “Something about Mary”. Need I say more!!