SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month and this type of cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. However, it is also the most preventable.

Autumn Bragg, an oncology manager at CoxHealth said everyone should wear sunscreen because everyone is at risk of developing skin cancer.

“Dermatologists recommend anyone, regardless of your skin tone utilize sunscreen if you plan to be outside,” said Bragg.

People who are at higher risk of developing skin cancer are those with fair complexion, light eyes, and light hair.

Types of skin cancer

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common type of skin cancer. It frequently develops in people who have fair skin.

“They tend to look more like sores on your body,” said Bragg. “If it doesn’t go away within two weeks that would be an indication that you might need to get that looked at.”

BCCs are common on the head, neck, and arms, but they can form anywhere on the body. Early diagnosis for BCC is important because it can penetrate the nerves and bones, causing damage and disfigurement.

The second most common type of skin cancer is Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). SCC tends to form on skin that gets frequent sun exposure, such as the rim of the ear, face, neck, arms, chest, and back.

Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. Melanoma develops in the cells (melanocytes) that produce melanin– the pigment that gives your skin its color. This type of cancer can even form in your eyes, nose, or throat.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the exact cause of melanoma is unknown, but exposure to ultraviolet (UV) tradition from sunlight and tanning lamps increases your risk of developing melanoma. Limiting your exposure to UV radiation is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of developing melanoma.

The first melanoma signs and symptoms often are:

  • A change in an existing mole
  • The development of a new pigmented or unusual-looking growth on your skin

To help identify characteristics of unusual moles that could indicate melanomas or other skin cancers think of the letter ABCDE.

A= asymmetrical

Look for moles with irregular shapes.

B= Border

Look for moles with irregular, notched, or scalloped borders.

C= change in color

Look for growths that have many colors or an uneven distribution of color.

D= diameter

Look for new growth in a mole larger than 1/4 inch.

E= evolving

Look for changes over time, such as a mole that grows in size or changes color/shape.

Tanning beds/UV ray exposure

“Anytime you have pigment change, whether that be in the form of a tan or sunburn, you are causing damage to your skin, and it’s causing damage to the DNA in your skin,” said Bragg.

According to Bragg, the sun produces several different types of rays. There are UVA, UVB, and UVC rays, however, UVC is absorbed in our atmosphere so the only rays that reach humans are UVA and UVB.

UVA rays have the longest wavelengths, followed by UVB, and UVC rays which have the shortest wavelengths. This is why most UVC and a portion of UVB get absorbed through the atmosphere and do not reach Earth.

“Some people will make the argument that I need to get vitamin D, so I’ll go to the tanning bed and that’s much safer because it is in a controlled environment,” said Bragg.

However, this argument isn’t necessarily valid since you normally need to have UVB to be able to absorb vitamin D.

“You’re not really getting any vitamin D by going to the tanning bed,” said Bragg. “You’re really just doing a more concentrated direct absorption to your skin with no sunscreen. And that leads to premature aging of your skin and it’s causing damage to your DNA.”

Bragg said the safer way to absorb vitamin D is through your diet. She also stated even if you don’t normally sunburn you could still be damaging your skin.

“The fact that your skin is turning colors and is tanning, that is damage to your skin,” said Bragg.

Bragg suggests you should always wear sunscreen even when it is cloudy and remember to reapply your sunscreen throughout the day. Especially if you are going swimming.