Sunshine on Your Shoulders — and Everywhere Else

What you need to know just in time for Skin Cancer Awareness Month.

Like the bad boy we couldn’t resist back in high school, sunbathing feels so good. Until it doesn’t.

True fact: You get a similar rush of endorphins from the sun as you do from feelings of lust. But sooner or later, the danger catches up to you.

Confession: I’m that fair maiden who fell for the sun in a big way when I was younger. I’m embarrassed — though hardly alone — to admit that I used a sun reflector to coax even more of the sun’s deadly rays onto my pale, freckled, easily burned face, which is now an older, still-pale face mired in sun damage, the fallout of my ignorance.

Back in the day, no one warned us about the sun’s dangers and we didn’t give much thought to it. Sun reflectors were almost as ubiquitous as beach towels, and if you didn’t carry one to the beach, chances are you carried a bottle of baby oil mixed with iodine, instead (another get-tan-quick trick).

I wish I’d known what I know now. What, you too?

Of course, we all experience wrinkles, fine lines and pigmentation changes as we age, sun or no sun. But if you’ve been postponing your annual skin check — and other routine screenings — due to the pandemic, now’s the time to get back on track.

Here’s why.

The incidence of melanoma — an increasingly deadly and common cancer — is steadily growing, particularly among women.

The increase may be due partly to the use of tanning beds but no matter the reason, melanoma is dangerous because it is more likely to grow and spread to other areas of your body if not caught and treated early enough. 

Here’s what to watch out for:

  • Though melanomas can appear anywhere on your skin, the most likely areas are the chest and back (for men) and the legs (in women).

  • Other common sites include the face and neck.

  • Having darker skin lowers the risk of melanoma, but only in the more common sites. Anyone can get melanoma on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet or under the nails.

  • Melanomas are not just limited to your skin: They can appear (but much less commonly) in your eyes, mouth, genital and anal area.

  • Click here for melanoma warning signs from the Skin Cancer Foundation.

Beyond Melanoma

Two other skin cancers are far more common than melanoma, but the good news is that they rarely spread to other parts of the body. Nevertheless, they still need to be treated, since they can grow into nearby areas and invade the bone or other tissues below your skin.

Squamous Cells are flat cells in the outermost layer of your skin. These cells constantly shed as new ones form. But when they grow out of control, they can turn into squamous cell cancer (or carcinoma).

  • About 1 in 5 skin cancers are squamous cell carcinomas.

  • Most of these appear after age 50.

  • They typically appear on areas of the skin that have been exposed to the sun, like the face, ears, neck, lips and backs of hands.

  • Though they can be removed completely, they are more likely than basal cell carcinomas to grow into deep layers or skin.

  • About 40 percent to 60 percent of squamous cell carcinomas start out as actinic keratosis (AK), which are precancerous lesions. (That’s why it’s important to treat AKs as well).

  • Click here for more complete info.

Basal Cells are found in the lower part of your skin (called the basal cell layer). They’re constantly dividing to form new cells that replace the squamous cells that wear off the skin’s surface. A basal cell carcinoma usually looks like a growth or sore that won’t heal.

  • About 4 out of 5 skin cancers are basal cell carcinomas, which grow slowly.

  • They’re most common on the face, head and neck.

  • If they’re not completely removed, they can appear again in the same place.

  • Click here for five warning signs to look out for.

A growth on the skin does not always indicate cancer. Indeed, there are plenty of common benign growths, like seborrheic keratoses, liver spots, moles and more that can appear as we age.

If you want to go more than skin deep (#pun), here is some helpful info straight from Cleveland Clinic.

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For a Pause

  1. Prevention and early detection are key. That’s why everyone should schedule an annual skin check with a qualified dermatologist. Healthline rounds up a helpful list of telehealth dermatology sites here.

  2. Although it’s not a substitute for your annual skin check, you should always be aware of what’s cropping up on your epidermis. Here’s a DIY guide to detecting and discerning what’s happening on your skin and what to look out for.

  3. Not surprising? Researchers studied 62 countries and found that those with higher ultraviolet exposure coupled with lighter skin tones led to the highest number of new cases. (Think: New Zealand and Australia)

  4. Did you know that although melanomas are typically dark brown/black, some can be pink/colorless? Don’t ignore any spot or mark with an uneven texture or distribution of colors. Pay attention to irregular shapes and borders, as well.

One More Thing

Before Ellen and even Rosie, Oprah or Phil — there was Merv. And Merv liked new bands.

Devo: Yet another reason Cleveland (or in this case, Akron) rocks.

Until next week, stay well. Stay healthy. Stay safe.

See you next time!


I'm gonna soak up the sun
Got my 45 on
So I can rock on
Soak Up the Sun, Sheryl Crow

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