Does One Sunburn Matter? Skin Cancer 101.


Does one sunburn matter? This is one of our frequently asked questions from our patients. The short answer is yes, one sunburn can make all the difference. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, with over five million cases diagnosed in the US a year. It is estimated that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. To bring awareness to this disease, and the dangers of unprotected exposure, May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month.

Skin cancer is generally curable, but early detection and intervention are key. Continue reading for the warning signs of the three most common forms of skin cancer.



Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)
BCC is the most common form of skin cancer. Unlike many forms of cancer; however, the cause of BCC is well known: UV rays from the sun or tanning beds. It frequently develops in people with fair skin, but can also occur in people with darker skin as well. Basal cell carcinoma can present in a number of different ways:

  • A flesh-colored pearl-like bump with small visible blood vessels

  • Pigmented bumps that look like moles with a pearly edge

  • A sore that continuously heals and re-opens

  • Flat, scaly scar with a waxy appearance and blurred edges.

Eighty-five percent of basal cell carcinomas occur on the scalp, face, neck or back of the hands; since these are places most exposed to the sun. If BCC develops under the age of 50 years old, the most common culprit is tanning beds. Even one use of a tanning bed increases your chances of developing BCC.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)
SCC is the second most common type of skin cancer. It is estimated that 250,000 new cases of squamous cell carcinoma are diagnosed annually. SCC presents itself as a red firm bump, scaly patch or a sore that heals and then reopens. They are often tender to the touch and most frequently appear on the scalp, face, ears and the back of hands.

Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. Although it is the least common type of skin cancer, it is the most common form among young adults from age 25-29. It frequently develops in a mole or suddenly appears as a new dark spot on the skin.

Make sure you know your ABCDE warning signs of melanoma:
A- Asymmetry: one half is unlike the other half.
B- Border: An irregular, scalloped or poorly defined border of the mole.
C- Color: The mole is not the same color throughout and has shades of tan, brown or black
D- Diameter: The mole is usually greater than 6 millimeters when diagnosed
E- Evolving: A mole or skin lesion that is different from the rest or changing in size, shape or color.

While there are no definitive numbers yet for exactly how much sunburn increases your chances of skin cancer, we do know that basal cell and squamous cell skin cancer are caused by cumulative sun exposure, and melanoma is generally developed after severe sunburn episodes. With all the effective self-tanner and sunscreen options on the market, why risk acquiring one of the skin cancer forms above?

If you have any questions or concerns relating to skin cancer or would like to schedule a skin exam, request an appointment at New River Dermatology today.

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