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Basal cells, squamous cells and melanocytes are the different types of cells which make up the epidermis, which is the outer layer of the skin. Skin cancer can develop from anyone of the three types of skin cells. Basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers usually are not serious, because they usually don’t spread to other organs. The third type of skin cancer is melanoma and it tends to be the most serious because it can metastasize, or spread to other organs fast.
There are several risk factors associated with skin cancer, including a family history and advanced age. One of the biggest risk factors associated with developing melanoma is excess sun exposure. Sun exposure, especially during childhood, appears to increase the chances of developing melanoma as an adult.
Ultraviolet (UV) rays can penetrate the skin and cause changes in the skin cells. UV rays are emitted from the sun and tanning beds. Exposure to UV rays has a cumulative effect, which means the more sun exposure a person gets, the more damage he or she may have to the skin.
Although certain risk factors, such as family history can’t be controlled, there are several ways to reduce the chances of developing melanoma. One of the best ways to prevent melanoma is by staying out of the sun, from about 10AM to 3PM, when the ultraviolet rays are the strongest. People who work outdoors and may have to be in the sun during peak times should consider wearing long-sleeved shirts which are made from a lightweight material.
Using sunscreen is also essential to preventing skin cancers. Sunscreen helps block the ultraviolet rays from penetrating the skin. Sunscreen is classified with the level of sun protection factor (SPF) it has, which simply means how much protection it provides. Generally a higher SPF provides longer sun protection. Most dermatologists recommend using a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher.
Sunscreen should be applied about fifteen minutes prior to going outside to allow the skin to absorb it. Also reapply the sunscreen every two hours or after swimming. Keep in mind; ultraviolet rays can still penetrate the earth’s atmosphere on a cloudy day, therefore sunscreen should be used. Other ways to prevent melanoma from developing include, wearing a hat which blocks the sunlight from the face. Sunglasses also provide some protect against UV rays and should be worn.
As with many types of cancer, the prognosis is better if melanoma is detected early. See a dermatologist annually to check for changes in the skin. Watch for changes in moles, such as increase in size, change in color or shape. See your doctor as soon as possible if you notice changes, or develop new moles which have irregular borders or are larger than the eraser of a pencil.
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