Time can stand still when you hear the diagnosis of “cancer.” For many, this is an overwhelming time, yet for some, even the diagnosis is not enough to change dangerous behaviors. Skin cancer is one of those cancers. Not only is it cancer but it can be a wake-up call to take your skin protection practices to the next level. Luckily for some, they can have their cancer cells removed right in a physician’s office while others are not so lucky. Regardless, not taking more drastic measures to prevent skin cancer or reoccurring skin cancer is just foolish and can be deadly.
In fact, you may even know someone who has lost their life to skin cancer or have heard of celebrities who fell to the disease. Famous singer and songwriter Bob Marley died from melanoma and according to https://www.skincancer.org/blog/bob-marley-should-not-have-died-from-melanoma/ it started as just a small mark on his toenail. Famous TV producer, writer and actor, Stephen Cannell also died of melanoma, actor James Rebhorn lost his life to the disease, Glenn McQueen, and many others. All goes to show that even an excess of money and access to fantastic healthcare, doesn’t make you immune.
Skin cancer is cancer. It’s not just a weird marking on the skin or a rash that will fade, it’s the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells. It occurs when unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells triggers mutations, or genetic defects, that lead the skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors. Most skin cancer can be specifically traced to UV rays and tanning beds. Your skin can also produce precancer cells, that when treated early enough may be able to remove all precancerous cells. It is clear how important early detection can be when it comes to your skin.
Our skin is our largest organ. When the skin is impacted by cancer, it isn’t always as easy as cutting or freezing it off. Like many diseases, it can turn from bad to worse. Skin cancer can start on any area of the body, and then its cells can spread to other parts of the body which is referred to as metastasizing. When cancer cells in the skin metastasize they can sometimes travel to the bone and grow there or in other places. When cancer is diagnosed and named for where it starts, you hear people downplay “just having skin cancer,” but that’s because they don’t talk about the dangers of it being bone cancer, brain cancer, etc. When someone says they have bone cancer, they aren’t as likely to downplay it. Regardless, cancer is cancer, and all cancer needs care, concern, and compassion.
When it comes to spotting the early warning signs it is best to learn all you can about your skin. Take time to look over your skin and note where you might have moles or concerns. Always ask for your doctor to check your skin at your yearly preventative visits and if you notice anything concerning before then give them a call. You may be referred to a dermatologist who specializes in skin concerns and cancer. Today there are many ways to get help, including telehealth options that can have you meeting with a dermatologist in minutes, rather than waiting for weeks or months. If you see something suspicious always start with contacting your primary care provider and see what options will work best.
According to www.skincancer.org, “More than 5.4 million cases of nonmelanoma skin cancer were treated in over 3.3 million people in the U.S. in 2012. More people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year in the U.S. than all other cancers combined. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70. Precancerous cells affect more than 58 million Americans. The annual cost of treating skin cancers in the U.S. is estimated at $8.1 billion: about $4.8 billion for nonmelanoma skin cancers and $3.3 billion for melanoma.” These are big numbers; we can do our best to try to stay out of these by caring for our skin year round. There are also countless celebrities that have shared their stories to help raise awareness of this including Khloe Kardashian, Andy Cohen, Anderson Cooper, Melanie Griffith, Hugh Jackman, Diane Keaton, and more.
The best news is we have a lot of control over how we can protect our skin and eyes from the harmful rays of the sun. We can all do our best to avoid direct sunlight, wear sunscreen and sun-safe clothes. Wearing UV-protected sunglasses is always a smart choice too. Take it further by talking annually to your healthcare provider about looking for any signs or discussing if you’re more predisposed to skin cancer. You may find you have other limitations or precautions that you should use. We can’t live each day in fear of what may happen, but we can empower ourselves and protect ourselves to stay as healthy as we can. Your skin is so important to your overall health, and you are too important to so many people, so be sun safe! We may not have the platform of Hollywood to help us raise awareness like celebrities, but we do have the luxury of talking with friends and family to start the conversation. Let’s commit to taking care of our skin not only this summer but always because skin cancer is cancer.
Director of The Wellness Center