Valley Dermatology

Skin Cancer Awareness Month

Skin cancer is by far the most common type of cancer. It’s estimated that about 9,500 people in the United States are diagnosed with skin cancer every day!
importance of sunscreen - skin cancer awareness

Understanding the World’s Most Common Cancer

People can have stages of skin cancer and yet not feel ill, which makes early treatment and diagnosis a little challenging. But by being aware of the early stages of this disease, and getting an annual skin exam (even in your 20s), you can protect yourself and seek effective treatment right away. The most common signs of skin cancer are changes on your skin, such as a new growth, a sore that doesn’t heal, or a change in a mole. Even if it’s cool and cloudy, you still need protection. UV rays, not the temperature, do the damage.

Causes of Skin Cancer

Unprotected exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays is the culprit of most cases of skin cancer, though there are other causes as well. Genetics can play a role in skin cancer development; about 10% of people diagnosed with melanoma have some genetic predisposition.

Other risk factors for skin cancer include:

  • Having fair skin, especially those who freckle or burn easily
  • Having many or abnormal moles
  • Having a personal or family history of skin cancer
  • Exposure to UV sunlight and/or tanning beds

Of note, is that despite the increased use of sunscreen over the last 3 decades, the incidence of melanoma is increasing. We are learning that the ultraviolet A (UVA) rays can be just as damaging as ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, and only some sunscreens include coverage for UVA rays. Find the right sunscreen.

sunburn - skin cancer awareness

Back to Basics

tips for healthy aging month

Types of Skin Cancer

Skin Cancer Awareness Month is also a good time to go back to basics. Here’s a quick refresher on the major types of skin cancer: how they form, what they look like and their prognoses.

Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common form of skin cancer, with approximately 3.6 million cases diagnosed in the U.S. every year.

BCCs are uncontrolled growths that can appear as open sores, scars, shiny bumps or red patches. Following a complete sun-protection strategy vastly reduces your risk of developing BCCs, which are usually caused by a combination of cumulative and intense, intermittent sun exposure.

The good news is that BCCs rarely spread to other organs. However, if a tumor is not spotted early or properly treated, it can be locally destructive and cause significant scarring or even disfigurement.


Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCCs) are more dangerous than BCCs, as they have the potential to metastasize if not detected and treated at an early stage. Prevention is, again, key — SCCs are mainly caused by cumulative ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure over the course of a lifetime. The intense UV rays present in the summer months, those reflected off ice and snow in winter, and those coming from indoor tanning bed use all add up, contributing to skin damage that can lead to SCC.


Melanoma is perhaps the best-known type of skin cancer, and for a troubling reason — it’s the most dangerous form of the disease. Melanomas can become very hard to treat and even be fatal if allowed to progress. If the cancer is caught early, however, a patient has an estimated 5-year survival rate of 99 percent. That’s why knowing how to recognize a potential melanoma — and then getting yourself to a dermatologist — is so important. Melanoma Warning Signs.

There can be a genetic component to melanoma; people whose first-degree relatives have had melanoma are at far greater risk of developing the disease. However, your habits in the sun are just as important: Intense, occasional UV exposure (the kind you may receive on a vacation in the tropics, typically leading to sunburn) can trigger tumors; on average, a person’s risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had more than five sunburns.

Think Sun Protection

Many skin cancers could have been prevented with sun protection. That’s why dermatologists recommend that everyone Practice Safe Sun. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Seek shade
    Seek shade when appropriate, remembering that the sun’s rays are the strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. If your shadow appears to be shorter than you are, seek shade.
  • Wear sun-protective clothing
    Wear a lightweight and long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses with UV protection, when possible. For more effective protection, select clothing with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) number on the label.
  • Apply sunscreen
    Apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to all skin not covered by clothing. Remember to reapply every two hours or after swimming or sweating.
looking for skin cancer and where it develops