Skin cancer is no joke, and many of us have family or friends with this disease. The good news is that early treatment is very effective at beating skin cancer before it can take hold. At Premier Dermatology and Mohs Surgery of Atlanta in Alpharetta, GA, we want you to be empowered with knowledge about cancer and when to get the cancer screenings you need.
What Is Cancer?
This one term, cancer, refers to a cluster of related diseases that can start anywhere in our bodies. That’s because the human body is made up of cells, and cancer is a disorder of these cells.
Understanding Cell Function
Normally, our cells grow, divide to create new cells, and then die and are replaced with new, healthy cells. Cancer disturbs this process. It can do so in different ways, but one common way cancer interrupts things is by causing new cells to just keep dividing constantly until tumors form.
Causes of Cancer
Cancer is caused by problems in the genetic code that controls the way our cells function. These errors can be written into our DNA through genes passed down from our parents, or they can happen because of damage to our DNA through things we’re exposed to, like radiation, tobacco, or the UV rays of the sun. In some cases, both damage and gene errors are at work.
Why Every Case Is Unique
Cancer is unique to each individual person because each of us is exposed to different environmental influences, and in differing amounts, throughout life. We also each have a unique genetic makeup. This means we won’t necessarily get cancer just because a parent did; or, we may get it even if no one else in our family has it. This is why cancer screenings are so important.
The Most Common Cancer of All
While cancer can occur anywhere, the most common cancer in the United States is skin cancer. A full 20% of the population will be diagnosed with skin cancer at some point in life, which is more than all other cancers combined. Skin cancer isn’t just dangerous because it’s so common. It can also metastasize, or spread, to other areas of the body. When that happens, it becomes much more difficult to treat.
Skin Cancer Risks
Your genetic risk makes a big difference in how frequently you should be screened. There are some important clues that indicate you should be screened more often:
- You have two or more relatives on the same side of the family with skin cancer
- Some of your family members were diagnosed with skin cancer before age 50
- There is a generational pattern of skin cancer in your family
Environmental factors are even more important than genetic ones when it comes to this common cancer. People with fair complexions who sunburn easily and spend a lot of time in the sun are by far the most likely to develop skin cancer. The most important thing you can do to defend yourself is to protect yourself from the sun.
A Tan Does Not Indicate Good Health
Contrary to popular cultural preferences, a tan is not indicative of good health. When your skin grows darker in the presence of the sun, it’s signaling to you that cells are being harmed by UV rays. Every tan, and especially every sunburn, increases your risk of skin cancer.
Never Neglect Sun Protection
Always wear sunscreen when spending time in the sun, and remember that the further south you live, the more direct the sun’s rays and the greater your risk. People in northern Wisconsin, for example, get little to no UV exposure from November through January; but here in Georgia, there are significant UV levels at all times of the year.
Skin Cancer Screenings: When to Get Them
Skin Cancer Self-Check
You should be checking your own skin on a regular basis. After all, you know your body best. Look for any changes in the shape, size, or color of a mole or the appearance of a new mole. If you see anything concerning, or if you notice a mole is causing itching or bleeding, be sure to contact us right away.
When you check your moles, follow the alphabet: A, B, C, D, E.
- A: asymmetry (a border that isn’t perfectly circular)
- B: border (changes to the border)
- C: color (changes in color)
- D: diameter (changes in diameter)
- E: evolving
If you are an at-risk individual, you should consider a screening every six months. This is especially important if you have a mole that has changed. Keep an eye on any skin issues that develop and seek help earlier if you notice something.
If you have a condition that compromises your immune system or take medication that has this effect, you need more frequent screenings. That’s because your body’s ability to fight off mutations in the cells has been compromised by the illness or medication.
For everyone else, a yearly screening is the best way to protect yourself from the dangers of skin cancer.
Stay Safe With Skin Cancer Screenings
Skin cancer is usually easy to treat when you catch it early, but the consequences of letting it go can be severe. If you’ve been neglecting skin cancer screenings, it’s not too late to start. Contact Premier Dermatology and Mohs Surgery of Atlanta in Alpharetta, GA today and take steps to keep yourself safe.