Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer by a good margin. It occurs when skin cells grow abnormally and form a mass of cancer cells, and accounts for more than 40% of cancer diagnosis worldwide.
And although this statistic may sound alarming, the truth is that it also only responsible for less than 0.1% of all cancer-related deaths in the United States of America – it has an incredibly high survival rate, with more than 90% of patients surviving more than 5 years (when detected early, that rate increases to an impressive 99%).
There are dozens of skin cancer types, but the three major ones account for the vast majority of the cases: basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma (these are nonmelanoma skin cancers that are usually not life-threatening), and melanoma.
The main cause of skin cancer is undoubtedly the damage that UV (ultraviolet) radiation does to the DNA of skin cells. Therefore, sun exposure is the primary risk factor responsible for skin cancer.
But it is not the only one, as can be understandable from the fact that some skin cancers manifest themselves in areas of the body that are almost always protected from direct sunlight. Exposure to toxic substances and medical conditions that weakens the immune system are also directly linked with skin cancer.
#5 Surprising Risks Factors
Having fair skin, being exposed to direct sunlight for too long, smoking, and family history of skin cancer are some of the factors that may increase the risk of skin cancer.
But besides these most common threats that you are certainly already aware of, there other less obvious that you will be glad to hear about. Here are 6 surprising risk factors that can potentially lead to the development of skin cancer:
#1 – HPV
The Human Papillomavirus is an STD (sexually transmitted disease) known to increase the risk of cervical cancer. Recent studies have found that it may also play a role in the development of skin cancer, more precisely in nonmelanoma types like basal and squamous cell carcinoma.
The reason behind this has to do with the fact that long-term skin inflammation (like the one provoked by HPV) makes the skin cells more fragile and prone to abnormal mutation when damaged by ultraviolet radiation. The risk of cancer increases even further if a person is being medicated with immunosuppression drugs.
#2 – Using too much sunscreen
Although sunscreen is one of the most effective ways to prevent skin cancer, it can also have the opposite effect on some people. Is this line of thought confusing? Allow us to explain. If you are constantly applying sunscreen in your face and body, it likely means that you are spending too much time sunbathing.
Be aware that just because you are using sunscreen it doesn’t mean that you are fully protected against the dangers of solar rays. Limiting your exposure to direct sunlight (especially during the most dangerous hours) is the only way to guarantee foolproof protection from damaging radiation.
#3 – Your doctor skips skin examination
Almost 70% of American primary care physicians admitted they didn’t perform careful skin exams on patients at average risk of skin cancer. This is especially alarming when we consider the fact that patients typically let early-stage melanoma go unnoticed.
Next time you go for a routine checkup, make sure to ask your doctor to properly examine your skin: moles, spots, and every other little thing that may concern you. It won’t take long, and it could be the difference between an early or a late diagnosis – when the cancerous cells may have grown into nearby tissues or spread to other parts of the body.
#4 – Alcohol
According to a study published in the American Association for Cancer Research journal, apparently drinking white wine is linked with an increased risk of melanoma. How is that possible, you ask? Well, the authors suggest that alcohol has an impact on skin cells at the DNA level, contributing to malformations and anomalous growth.
Other studies also suggest that drinking alcohol while being exposed to sunlight – a regular behavior for many people on vacation – can make your skin more susceptible to sunburns and thus putting you at a greater risk of skin cancer.
#5 – Scars
When a scar is not fully healed, the inflammation of the skin in the affected region is at great risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma. The ongoing exposure of the scar tissue to toxins and carcinogens, together with the impaired immunological defense caused by its poor vascularization contribute to increasing the vulnerability of skin cells that can eventually lead to skin cancer.
The two most effective behaviors in skin cancer prevention are really simple to implement: limit your exposure to UV radiation – use sunscreen all year round with an SPF of at least 30 – and check your body regularly for suspicious changes on your skin.
Like in every other type of cancer, early skin cancer detection increases the chances of successful treatment – but unlike many others, skin cancer symptoms are visible and relatively easier to identify if you know well what to look for. To help you with this self-diagnosis task, the American Cancer Association created a mnemonic technique that makes it easy to remember the most prominent visual clues for skin cancer detection: the ABCDE.
Asymmetry: check for moles with weird shapes, or where on half is different from the other.
Border: check for irregular, ragged, or notched edges.
Color: check for color variations and differences in shading.
Diameter: check for big moles (a good rule of thumb is: if its bigger than a pencil erases, you should see a doctor).
Evolving: check if your moles change in shape, size or thickness.
If you notice that something might be wrong with your skin, don’t panic. Not every weirdly shaped mole or change in skin tissue is caused by cancer. Schedule an appointment with your doctor so we can examine you. If he agrees that there’s a reason for alarm, he will immediately suggest a skin cancer specialist.