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Sunburn and Skin Cancer

Topic Overview

Skin cancer is often or usually caused by years of too much sun exposure. More than 90% of all skin cancers are found on body parts that get the most sun most of the time. The face, neck, ears, hands, and arms are common body parts that get skin cancer.

Skin cancer can often be prevented by avoiding overexposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays (UV rays). UV rays from artificial sources, such as tanning beds or sunlamps, are just as dangerous as those from the sun.

The three main types of skin cancer are basal cell cancer, squamous cell cancer, and melanoma.

The ABCDE system is a guide to detect signs of skin cancer in moles or growths on the skin.

  • Asymmetry. One half doesn't match the other half.
  • Border irregularity. The edges are ragged, notched, or blurred.
  • Color. The pigmentation is not uniform. Shades of tan, brown, and black are present. Dashes of red, white, and blue add to the mottled appearance. Changes in color distribution, especially the spread of color from the edge of a mole into the surrounding skin, also are an early sign of melanoma.
  • Diameter. The mole or skin growth is larger than 6 mm (0.2 in.), or about the size of a pencil eraser. Any growth of a mole should be of concern.
  • Evolution. There is a change in the size, shape, symptoms (such as itching or tenderness), surface (especially bleeding), or color of a mole.

People with skin types that burn easily and do not tan are at highest risk for skin cancers. Anyone who has had severe sunburns or many sunburns is at high risk for skin cancers.

A person in the southern United States has a 50% greater risk for getting basal cell cancer than a person in the northern United States. The risk for squamous cell cancer is four times greater in the southern U.S. The closer a person lives to the equator, the greater the cancer risk from sun exposure. The risk for skin cancer also increases if you are exposed to intense sun year after year over your lifetime.

Credits

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerWilliam H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerH. Michael O'Connor, MD, MMEd, FRCPC - Emergency Medicine

Current as ofMarch 28, 2018


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