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By Stephanie Simons,
Head Pharmacist,
Lindo’s Pharmacy in Devonshire

May is National Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month and with summer right around the corner, it’s a good time to think about how to protect your skin from the sun. The month is dedicated to increasing public awareness of the importance of prevention, early detection and treatment of skin cancer. More than 3.5 million skin cancers are diagnosed annually in more than 2 million people.

Types of skin cancer include Basal Cell Carcinoma, Melanoma and Squamous Cell Carcinoma.

  • Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common form of skin cancer with an estimated 2.8 million cases diagnosed annually in the US. BCC is rarely fatal, but can cause disfiguration if allowed to grow.
  • Melanoma is more than 20 times more common in whites than in blacks. Overall, the lifetime risk of getting melanoma is about 2.4% (1 in 40) for whites, 0.1% (1 in 1,000) for blacks, and 0.5% (1 in 200) for Hispanics.
  • Unlike many other common cancers, melanoma occurs in both younger and older people. Rates continue to increase with age and are highest among those in their 80’s, but melanoma is not uncommon even among those younger than 30. In fact, it is one of the more common cancers in young adults – especially young women.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common form of skin cancer with an estimated 700,000 cases diagnosed each year in the US, resulting in approximately 2,500 deaths.
  • Actinic keratosis is the most common pre-cancer, affecting more than 58 million Americans.

Skin cancer is one of the few cancers that can easily be found in its earliest stages. Both doctors and patients play important roles in detecting skin cancer.

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The ABCDE way to check moles and skin

Here are some of the symptoms:

  • Changes on the skin, especially in the size, colour or shape of a mole or other darkly pigmented growth or spot, or a new growth
  • Scaliness, oozing, bleeding, or change in the appearance of a bump or nodule
  • Spread of colour beyond its border such as dark colouring that goes outside the edge of a mole or mark
  • A change in sensation, itchiness, tenderness, or pain

So what causes skin cancer? According to www.skincancerprevention.org, there are many risk factors that affect your chances of getting a disease. For skin cancer, those risk factors include but aren’t limited to: Ultraviolet (UV) light, fair skin, older age, moles, weak immune system, exposure to chemicals and radiation, having had skin cancer before, certain long-term or severe skin problems, smoking, genetics and more.

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Learn the skin cancer risks and preventative measures you can take

But risk factors don’t tell us everything. Having a risk factor or even several risk factors doesn’t mean that you will get skin cancer. And many people who do may not have had any risk factors. Even if a person with basal or squamous cell skin cancer has a risk factor, it is often very hard to know how much that risk factor may have contributed to the cancer. However, it’s important to know the risk factors so you can avoid them, if possible.

The good thing is, skin cancer is preventable by making small changes. Prevention tips include not tanning, whether in a tanning bed or in the sun, seeking shade between 10am and 4pm when the sun is the strongest, wearing protective clothing and generously applying sunscreen.

Early detection can save your life. Carefully examine all of your skin once a month and if you see a new or changing spot, please tell your doctor. Have fun this summer and enjoy the sun safely!

Stephanie Simons is the head pharmacist at Lindo’s Pharmacy in Devonshire. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and has been practicing for over 20 years. She is a registered pharmacist with the Bermuda Pharmacy Council and is a member of the Bermuda Pharmaceutical Association.