Advocate Radiation Oncology

Understanding sunshine and its role in skin cancer

Dr. Alan Brown and his team

By Dr. Alan Brown

We all appreciate the great outdoors and soak in the sun from time to time. After all, sunshine is one of the primary reasons we live in Florida.

We don’t all get skin cancer, though. Every individual has a distinct genetic profile, and over a lifetime, has a different history of sun exposure.

Certain individuals with lower risk factors might get away with greater periods of sun exposure. Meanwhile, someone who spends the same amount of time outdoors could develop basal or squamous cell carcinoma, the two most common types of skin cancer often caused by sun exposure, or possibly melanoma, a rare and dangerous type of skin cancer that causes the most skin cancer-related deaths.

Everyone – regardless of their genetic disposition – is at risk of developing skin cancer. It’s estimated that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer at some point in their lives. There are certain risk factors out of our control: individuals with lighter skin color, blue or green eyes, blond or red hair, skin that burns easily, freckles, large number of moles and a family history are more likely to develop skin cancer. Older age is also a factor.

The No. 1 contributing factor to skin cancer, though, is something entirely within our control – exposure to harmful UV rays that are strongest on sunny, summer days.

As with all cancers, one factor that vastly improves an individual’s outcome is an early diagnosis. Unlike cancers that affect interior parts of the body, skin cancer almost always presents itself on the outside. That’s why individuals should complete a monthly ABCDE Self Check:

A – Asymmetry. Skin cancers, including melanoma, are typically asymmetrical shapes, whereas moles are circular or oval.

B – Border. Cancerous spots tend to have uneven edges or borders.

C – Color. Moles are typically medium brown or dark brown. A melanoma can contain varying hues of brown, black or tan, or even red.

D – Diameter and Darkness. Large spots or a spot that is darker than surrounding moles indicate a need for further evaluation.

E – Evolving. Cancerous spots tend to change size, shape, color or elevation over time. They also can be itchy, crusty or bloody.

If any of the ABCDEs present a cause for concern, schedule an appointment immediately with your primary care physician or board-certified dermatologist. For many types of skin cancer, outpatient surgery to remove the cancer is often the first step. However, radiation therapy is an exceptional treatment option for more aggressive forms of basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. High-powered energy beams can be precisely focused on cancerous cells, sparing impacts to surrounding tissue and minimizing potential side effects often associated with cancer treatment.

With summer about to take a stronghold on Southwest Florida, be smart when heading outdoors. Lather on your sunscreen, grab a hat and try to avoid outdoor activities when the sun is at its strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Also, use technology to your advantage and set a recurring event on your smartphone calendar for the first day of every month – make that your ABCDE Self Check day.

About the Author

Dr. Alan Brown is a board-certified radiation oncologist at Advocate Radiation Oncology, a locally owned and operated practice with six convenient locations in Southwest Florida. For more information, please visit AdvocateRO.com.