“Skin Cancer”

We hear the term often, but the details regarding the different types, and what they mean are frequently overlooked. We hear about celebrities, such as Hugh Jackman, being diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma—a non-melanoma skin cancer—yet no one seems too concerned for his health since having the spot removed. We see a picture with a bandage over his nose and think, “The spot was removed, and now he’s fine. No big deal. It’s not like he was diagnosed with Melanoma or something life-threatening.” The lack of concern related to a non-melanoma skin cancer diagnosis is common, but new research suggests that there IS cause for concern.

According to a study published Friday in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, individuals who are diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancers are at a higher risk of developing other cancers, including colon, lung, and breast cancers (among several others). This risk jumps substantially if you are under 25 years old upon diagnosis.

There are two main types of non-melanoma skin cancers:Basal-cell-carcinoma-squamous-cell-carcinoma

  • Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC): the most frequently occurring form of skin cancer. BCC’s are abnormal growths or lesions that arise in the skin’s basal cells. They often appear as red patches, pink growths, open sores, or shiny bumps, and are generally caused by cumulative UV exposure and intense, occasional UV exposure.
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC): the second most common form of skin cancer. SCC is an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells within the skin’s squamous cells. SCC’s often appear as scaly red patches, elevated growths with a central depression, warts, or open sores that may crust or bleed. SCC are primarily caused by cumulative UV exposure.

The Oxford study looked at 502,490 people with a history of NMSC, and a collection of people with no cancer diagnosis who served as the control (or comparison) group. The study found that for those who had a history of NMSC, the relative risk for developing other cancers remained consistently elevated when compared to the control group (3.52  times higher for those 25-44 years of age, 1.74 for those 45-49, and 1.32 for those older than 60 years). What’s particularly scary however, is what this study found regarding persons who were diagnosed with NMSC before the age of 25. The risk for these individuals to develop a subsequent cancer jumped to 23 times higher than persons with no NMSC diagnosis. By way of comparison, the relative risk for a person to develop lung cancer after smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for 50 years, is 25.

One of your best courses of action to prevent cancer, then, is to protect your skin from UV exposure, and ultimately prevent these “less threatening” skin cancers from ever occurring. The best way to do this is to practice sun safety by wearing UV Skinz certified UPF 50+ clothing, including a wide brim hat, and to apply a broad spectrum sunscreen of at least 30 SPF to areas you are unable to cover with clothing. You should also avoid excessive UV exposure by steering clear of tanning beds and seeking the shade during peak UV hours, generally between 10am-4pm.