Skin cancers can be divided into two types: melanoma and non-melanoma. Non-melanoma skin cancers include basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. These types do not tend to spread to other parts of the body and are often treated with various measures to destroy or remove the cells. Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. Here are some statistics:
Genetics and exposure to UV rays from natural sunlight or artificial sources (tanning salons) are the two greatest contributors to melanoma. Individuals with a family history of melanoma or a prior personal history of any type of skin cancer have a higher lifetime incidence of melanoma. The use of tanning beds before the age of 30 may increases your risk of melanoma by 75% percent. Even occasionally using tanning beds can triple your chances.
The risk of unnecessary exposure to natural or artificial light has been well established. And although it is common sense to avoid exposure to these light sources, it is important to note that melanoma may occur anywhere—even where the skin is not exposed to light.
Melanoma can occur in the eye, the mucous membranes (such as the mouth) and even underneath the nails. While melanoma does occur more frequently in people who have fair skin, light hair, and light eye color, darkly pigmented skin does not eliminate the risk of melanoma.
Having numerous moles (> 50), particularly if they are ‘dysplastic’ or abnormal appearing, puts you at an increased risk of developing melanoma.
For more information, read our newsletter article Fastest Car, Fastest Athlete…Fastest Growing Cancer in the US? To see illustrations of common moles check out the National Cancer Institute’s Melanoma FactSheet.
About the Author: Anne Boyd, M.D., FACSM brings over 17 years of both family and sports medicine experience to Lifewellness Institute. She has been recognized as a “Top Doctor” by Pittsburgh Magazine 4 years in a row, and has published countless research articles and presentations.