Skin Cancer

Premier Health physicians answer Frequently Asked Questions about skin cancer.

What does indoor tanning do to the skin?

Indoor tanning exposes the skin to ultraviolet (UV) radiation — UVA and UVB rays. This radiation causes changes in your skin cells, which results in tanning. The changes come from the effects of UV radiation on melanin and melanocytes in the skin. Melanin is responsible for skin color, and melanocytes are the cells responsible for producing melanin. Over time, UV radiation can cause genetic changes in the skin cells that can lead to skin cancer.

The tanning process is a protective measure of the skin to minimize genetic damage. However, there is no such thing as a safe tan.

When you tan, it means you’ve been exposed to UV radiation and damage to skin cells has occurred.

    How does indoor tanning differ from being out in the sun? 

    Both expose your skin to UV radiation. 

    Tanning beds use fluorescent bulbs that emit mostly UVA and smaller doses of UVB radiation. The amount of UVA radiation from a tanning bed is up to three times more intense than the UVA radiation in natural sunlight.

    Tanning beds may be more dangerous than the sun because they can be used at the same high intensity every day of the year. With the sun, there is cloud cover, seasonal variation, and different levels of UV radiation that we are exposed to.

      Is there a safe way to tan and still prevent skin cancer? 

      The answer is no. The tanning industry will tell you that indoor tanning can help build a base to protect against sunburn, but that protection is minimal at best. A tan indicates that damage to skin cells has occurred.

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      Why is indoor tanning so dangerous?

      Indoor tanning is dangerous mostly because the UVA and UVB rays emitted by tanning beds are considered harmful to the skin, since they lead to skin cancer and other effects like premature aging. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (part of the World Health Organization) categorizes tanning beds in the highest risk category, as causing cancer in humans.

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        Are self-tanning skin products safe?

        They are safe as a practical alternative to tanning. There is no evidence that the main ingredient in self tanners, dihydroxyacetone, is harmful if applied and used as directed. It has been studied and, as far as we know, that chemical is safe when used on the skin. We know it is safer than UV radiation.

        Are people with dark skin tones less likely to get skin cancer?

        Yes. People with darker skin produce more melanin. That does help protect the skin. However, people of color can get a sunburn and skin cancer from UV damage. Anyone can get skin cancer.

        The incidence of melanoma (one type of skin cancer) is higher in people who are Caucasian, but melanoma tends to be more deadly in people of color. That is why sun protection is so important for everyone.

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        Does sunscreen use lead to Vitamin D deficiency?

        This has been a hot topic in dermatology. Clinical studies have not found that sunscreen use leads to a vitamin D deficiency. The benefits of using sunscreen far outweigh any concerns about vitamin D, given the strong link between UV radiation and skin cancer.

        Even if you apply sunscreen perfectly, there will still be a small amount of UV radiation that reaches your skin. That allows Vitamin D production because it doesn’t take much sun exposure for the body to produce Vitamin D. You can also easily get enough Vitamin D through your diet without the risk of tanning. 

        Learn more about Vitamin D.

        Does sunscreen become ineffective as it ages? 

        Yes. Many sunscreens have an expiration date on the bottle, and that should be followed. All sunscreens are developed to remain effective for three years after production. If you’re using enough sunscreen, you should finish an entire bottle of sunscreen before the expiration date.

        Most people don’t use enough sunscreen or reapply when they should. You need to apply sunscreen every couple of hours and you need to use an adequate amount.

        As dermatologists, we recommend applying one ounce (about two tablespoons) of sunscreen to all exposed areas of the body. And you should reapply every few hours. If you are sweating, swimming or toweling off, you should apply sunscreen more frequently.

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          Are there different forms of skin cancer, and how does it develop?

          There are three different types of skin cancer, and each is named for the type of cell that becomes cancerous, according to the National Cancer InstituteOff Site Icon (NCI).

          The three types of skin cancer, according to the NCI, are:

          • Basal cell: The face is the most common place to find this type of skin cancer, which usually occurs in places that have been exposed to the sun. Basal cell skin cancer is the most common form for people with fair skin to have.
          • Melanoma: This type of cancer can happen on any surface skin, but on men it’s most common on the head, neck and between the shoulders and hips. In women, it’s most often on the lower legs or between the shoulders and hips. Melanoma is rare in people with dark skin, but if they do have it, it is usually found under the fingernails, under the toenails, on the palms of their hands or the soles of their feet.
          • Squamous cell: This is the most common form of cancer in people with dark skin, for whom it is usually found in places that are not frequently in the sun, such as the legs and feet. In fair-skinned people, this cancer usually occurs on the head, face, ears and neck, which have been exposed to sun.

          Skin cancer develops as regular skin cells start to grow abnormally, according to the American Academy of DermatologyOff Site Icon (AAD). Oftentimes it develops on parts of the skin that have been exposed to the sun without proper protection, like sunscreen.

          For more information about types of skin cancer and how it develops, talk with your doctor.

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          What lifestyle habits can increase someone’s risk of developing skin cancer?

          Sometimes you can put yourself at risk of developing skin cancer without even realizing it.

          According to the American Cancer SocietyOff Site Icon (ACS), some lifestyle behaviors that can put you at risk of developing skin cancer include:

          • Choosing to use a tanning bed or intentionally spending a lot of time outside to get tan
          • Having occupational exposure to arsenic compounds, coal tar, creosote, pitch or radium
          • Ignoring a family history of skin cancer
          • Ignoring unusual moles rather than having them checked out
          • Not using sunscreen anytime you will be outside, even on overcast days

          For more information about behaviors that put you at risk of developing skin cancer, talk with your doctor.

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          Is there a difference between ultraviolet light exposures outside and in a tanning bed? Is exposure in a tanning bed as harmful?

          Dr. Washington discusses outside and tanning bed ultraviolet light exposure. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

           

          Tanning – whether you get tan outside or in a tanning bed – puts you at risk of developing skin cancer, according to the Skin Cancer FoundationOff Site Icon (SCF).

          All tans are caused by harmful forms of ultraviolet radiation and cause damage to your skin cells. At a minimum, the damage of years of exposure to tanning can cause premature skin aging – including wrinkles, sagging skin and brown spots, according to the SCF.

          Statistics show that people who use UV tanning beds and tanning lamps are 74 percent more likely to develop skin cancer than people who have only gotten tan while outside, according to the SCF.

          For more information about tanning indoors and outside, talk with your doctor.

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          How can someone enjoy spending time in the sun without putting themselves at risk for developing skin cancer?

          Spending time in the sun enjoying your favorite outdoor activities is fun, and you don’t have to skip out on that to avoid the risk of skin cancer.

          The best ways to lower your risk of skin cancer while being outside in the sun, according to the American Cancer SocietyOff Site Icon (ACS), include:

          • Apply and reapply sunscreen and lip balm that is SPF 30 or higher. Reapply every two hours (or more frequently if swimming or sweating)
          • Avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when possible
          • Look for shade, especially in the middle of the day
          • Protect your skin even on overcast days
          • Put on a hat, preferably one with a wide brim that shades your face, neck and ears
          • Wear protective clothing that is comfortable and made of tightly woven fabrics
          • Wear sunglasses with 99 percent to 100 percent UV absorption

          For more information about spending time in the sun while staying safe from skin cancer, talk with your doctor.

          Learn more:

          What are the different types of skin cancer?

          Dr. Wilcher discusses types of skin cancer. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

           

          There are three main types of skin cancer, and each is named for the type of cell that becomes cancerous, according to the National Cancer InstituteOff Site Icon (NCI).

          The three main types of skin cancer, according to the NCI, are:

          • Basal cell: The face is the most common place to find this type of skin cancer, which usually occurs in places that have been exposed to the sun. Basal cell skin cancer is the most common form for people with fair skin to have.
          • Melanoma: This type of cancer can happen on any surface skin, but on men it’s most common on the head, neck and between the shoulders and hips. In women, it’s most often on the lower legs or between the shoulders and hips. Melanoma is rare in people with dark skin, but if they do have it, it is usually found under the fingernails, under the toenails, on the palms of their hands or the soles of their feet.
          • Squamous cell: This is the most common form of cancer in people with dark skin, for whom it is usually found in places that are not frequently in the sun, such as the legs and feet. In fair skinned people, this cancer usually occurs on the head, face, ears and neck, which have been exposed to sun.

          Skin cancer develops as regular skin cells start to grow abnormally, according to the American Academy of DermatologyOff Site Icon (AAD). Oftentimes, it develops on parts of the skin that have been exposed to the sun without proper protection, like sunscreen.

          For more information about types of skin cancer, talk with your doctor.

          Learn more:

          Who should be evaluated for skin cancer?

          Dr. Wilcher discusses who should be evaluated for skin cancer. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

           

          The Skin Cancer FoundationOff Site Icon (SCF) states that it is important for people to do a monthly head-to-toe exam of their skin so they can be aware of any changes that could be cancerous or precancerous.

          Having a suspicious looking mole or skin growth, especially one that bleeds and/or does not heal, for example, would be an important reason to visit your primary care provider or dermatologist to be evaluated for skin cancer, according to Premier Health Specialists’ (PHS) physicians.

          Melanoma has some hereditary ties, so if you have a strong family history of melanoma, it is important to be watchful and keep a close eye on any skin changes, according to PHS physicians.

          Being evaluated through a full skin exam by your physician every year can also help find and treat any issues early, according to the SCF.

          For more information about skin cancer evaluations, talk with your doctor.

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          What role does surgery play in the diagnosis or treatment of skin cancer?

          Dr. Wilcher discusses the role surgery in the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

           

          Surgery plays a large role in both the diagnosis and the treatment of skin cancer.

          If your doctor suspects that you have skin cancer, the diagnosis is confirmed by having a surgical biopsy, in which part of the skin cancer is removed to be examined and tested, according to the Skin Cancer FoundationOff Site Icon (SCF).

          Most of the time, skin cancer also is treated surgically by excision or through Mohs surgery, according to Premier Health Specialists’ (PHS) physicians.

          Mohs surgery has been found to be the most effective way to remove certain types of skin cancer in certain locations, such as basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas, and also now is being used more and more often to treat certain forms of Melanoma, according to the SCF.

          Talk to your doctor for more information about the role surgery plays in the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer.

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          Schedule an appointment

          For a cancer screening or to schedule an appointment with an dermatologist, call (866) 608-FIND(866) 608-FIND or complete the form below to receive a call from our scheduling department to make an appointment.

           

          Source: J. Scott Wilcher, MD, North Dayton Surgeons; Marcus Washington, MD, Premier Health Family Medicine; Brent Kirkland, MD, Dermatologists of Southwest Ohio; American Cancer Society; National Cancer Institute

          Content Updated: April 4, 2017

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