Skin Cancer & Premature Aging

There is a lot of information available regarding skin cancer and premature aging.  Both are things we want to avoid and both can largely be prevented by reducing sun exposure.  Read on for skin cancer and premature aging facts and stats:

Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is by far the most common cancer in the United States and worldwide.  The two main causes of skin cancer are the sun’s rays and the use of UV tanning beds.  This means we have the opportunity to reduce the occurrence of skin cancer by simply protecting our skin from UV rays.  As it stands,  

  • 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70.

  • More than 2 people die in the U.S. from skin cancer every hour.

We hope that through education and having better options for sun protection that those statistics will start to diminish.

Types of Skin Cancer

Melanoma begins in cells in the skin called melanocytes (cells that produce pigment and cause your skin to tan).  It is the most serious form of skin cancer and is the leading cause of death from skin disease.

  • An estimated 197,700 cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2022.

  • Risk of melanoma doubles if you’ve had more than 5 sunburns.

  • Melanoma is the second most common cancer in females age 15-29.

  • Melanoma survivors have an approximately nine-fold increased risk of developing another melanoma compared to the general population.1

Other types of skin cancer are referred to as Nonmelanoma.  About 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to UV radiation from the sun and tanning beds.  The most common are basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas. These cancers make up the majority of skin cancer cases.

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) grows slowly. It usually occurs on areas of the skin that have been in the sun. BCC rarely spreads to other parts of the body.

  • BCC is the most common form of skin cancer and the most frequently occurring form of all cancers. An estimated 3.6 million cases of BCC are diagnosed in the U.S. each year.

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) also occurs on parts of the skin that have been in the sun, but it also may be in places that are not in the sun. SCC sometimes spreads to lymph nodes and organs inside the body.

  • SCC is the second most common form of skin cancer. An estimated 1.8 million cases of SCC are diagnosed in the U.S. each year.

  • The latest figures suggest that more than 15,000 people die of Squamous cell carcinoma in the U.S. each year.

Other less-common forms of nonmelanoma skin cancer include Kaposi’s sarcoma, Merkel cell carcinoma and cutaneous lymphoma.

Ethnicity

Although the risk of getting melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers is the highest for White people, “Skin cancer affects people of all colors. Even if you have a darker skin tone, always tan or rarely burn, you can still develop the disease.”2 In fact, skin cancer accounts for:

  • 1 to 2 percent of all cancers in Black people.

  • 2 to 4 percent of all cancers in Asian people.

  • 4 to 5 percent of all cancers in Hispanic people.

What’s more, when skin cancers occur in nonwhite racial ethnic groups, they tend to be diagnosed at a later stage.  This late diagnosis contributes to a reduced survival rate for Black patients with melanoma, which has a five-year estimated survival rate of 71 percent, versus 93 percent for White patients.

What to do & What to Look For

Everyone, of all skin colors and ethnicities, should do a self-exam every month.  In this self-exam, it is important to examine your skin from head-to-toe and note if you see anything new, changing, or unusual.  If you do see any changes, contact a dermatologist.  Additionally, it is recommended to get a full-body, professional skin exam from a dermatologist once a year.  Things that raise concern:

  • A growth that increases in size and appears pearly, transparent, tan, brown, black, or multicolored.

  • A spot or sore that continues to itch, hurt, crust, scab or bleed.

  • An open sore that does not heal within three weeks.

  • A mole, birthmark or brown spot that exhibit any of the ABCDE’s of melanoma3. Common characteristics of melanoma are:

    • Asymmetry: Melanoma is often not symmetrical.

    • Border: Melanoma usually has irregular borders.

    • Color: Melanoma lesions are often more than one color.

    • Diameter: Melanoma growths are normally larger than 6mm in diameter, which is about the diameter of a standard pencil.

    • Evolving: The spot looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape, or color.

For all skin cancers, early detection results in needing minimal treatment and has the highest chance of a cure. 

Premature Aging

Premature aging of skin is known as photoaging.  Photoaging is caused by overexposure to the sun.  According to Yale Medicine, “Unlike normal, chronological aging, which is dictated by age and genetics, photoaging happens when ultraviolet light from the sun and/or tanning beds permanently damages the skin’s structure.” 4 Signs of photoaging include the following:

  • Wrinkling

  • Pigmentation changes such as age spots, liver spots (solar lentigines) and freckles

  • Loss of skin tone (decreased elasticity)

  • Rough, uneven skin texture

  • Broken capillaries (spider veins), usually around the nose and chest

  • Redness and blotchiness

The sun rays that cause these signs of premature aging are UVA rays.  UVA radiation makes up 95% of all the UV rays that make it to the Earth’s surface. UVA penetrates deep into our skin where it ends up degrading collagen and elastic tissue.  This results in the “wrinkled, crepe-like, and saggy quality of photo-damaged skin.”5

Prevention of Both Skin Cancer & Premature Aging

Skin cancer and premature aging are both largely prevented by reducing sun exposure.  Here are some tips to keep your skin happy:

  • Wear protective clothing, ideally rated UPF 40-50+ for excellent sun protection.

  • Avoiding sun exposure when the sun is strongest, usually between 10 am and 2 pm.

  • Sit under umbrellas and in the shade when possible.

  • Wear a wide-brim hat to protect your face.

  • Apply broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 to all skin exposed to the sun.

In summary, always, always, ALWAYS protect your skin from the sun.

 

Sources and References
The majority of skin cancer statistics shared were from this article from the Skin Cancer Foundation:
“Skin Cancer Facts & Statistics.” The Skin Cancer Foundation, Jan. 2022, https://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/skin-cancer-facts/.
Other Sources:
1“Skin Cancer.” American Academy of Dermatology, 1 June 2021, https://www.aad.org/media/stats-skin-cancer.
2“Skin Cancer & Skin of Color.” The Skin Cancer Foundation, Jan. 2022, https://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/skin-cancer-skin-of-color/.
3“Atypical Moles.” The Skin Cancer Foundation, Jan. 2021, https://www.skincancer.org/risk-factors/atypical-moles/.
4“Photoaging (Sun Damage).” Yale Medicine, Yale Medicine, 30 Oct. 2020, https://www.yalemedicine.org/conditions/sun-damage.
5Burke, Karen E. “Environmental Aging of the Skin: New Insights.” Plastic and Aesthetic Research, OAE Publishing Inc., 24 Oct. 2020, https://parjournal.net/article/view/3727.