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Friday, May 6, 2011

May is Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection & Prevention Month

Since warmer weather is on its way and people will be outside more, I thought I’d post some information on skin cancer. There are links below to more detailed information on the various kinds of skin cancer.

There are three main types of skin cancer that get their names from the types of cells involved: Melanoma, basal cell and squamous cell.

Here are more detailed descriptions from the National Cancer Institute:

Melanoma: Melanoma begins in melanocytes (pigment cells). Most melanocytes are in the skin. See the picture of a melanocyte and other skin cells. Melanoma can occur on any skin surface. In men, it’s often found on the skin on the head, on the neck, or between the shoulders and the hips. In women, it’s often found on the skin on the lower legs or between the shoulders and the hips.Melanoma is rare in people with dark skin. When it does develop in people with dark skin, it’s usually found under the fingernails, under the toenails, on the palms of the hands, or on the soles of the feet.

Basal cell skin cancer: Basal cell skin cancer begins in the basal cell layer of the skin. It usually occurs in places that have been in the sun. For example, the face is the most common place to find basal cell skin cancer.

In people with fair skin, basal cell skin cancer is the most common type of skin cancer.

Squamous cell skin cancer: Squamous cell skin cancer begins in squamous cells. In people with dark skin, squamous cell skin cancer is the most common type of skin cancer, and it’s usually found in places that are not in the sun, such as the legs or feet.However, in people with fair skin, squamous cell skin cancer usually occurs on parts of the skin that have been in the sun, such as the head, face, ears, and neck.


The best way to prevent skin cancer is to protect yourself from the sun’s rays when you are outside. Here are some suggestions:

Since the sun’s rays are strongest during the middle part of the day, avoid being outdoors between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. If you have to be outside, stay in the shade as much as possible.

Wear protective clothing: long-sleeve shirts and long pants, wide-brimmed hats that go all the way around so they protect your neck as well as your face.

Watch out for reflected rays that bounce off water, sand, snow and ice. The harmful rays can also penetrate windshields and windows in cars.

Apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 a half hour before going outside or after swimming. Reapply it every 2 hours while outside.


You should regularly exam your skin for suspicious moles and other lesions. This can lead to early detection and successful treatment of skin cancer. The American Academy of Dermatology has an excellent description of how to perform skin self-examination. Check out this wonderful resource: Skin Examinations

Here are some other links to more detailed information about the different kinds of skin cancer:

What You Need to Know about Melanoma and Other Skin Cancers (National Cancer Institute)

Anyone Can Get Skin Cancer (National Cancer Institute)

Basic Information about Skin Cancer (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Skin Cancer (American Academy of Dermatology)

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