It’s a familiar feeling… The skies are clear and summer days are longer which means you’re getting ready to spend more time basking in sunlight. We don’t blame you – vitamin D is vital especially after a dark, cold winter. So, what’s the number one way to protect yourself from skin cancer?
Spread on the sunscreen, right? Not so fast. Remembering to use sunscreen is a great habit – keep it up! Believe it or not, though, research reveals that minimizing sun exposure is not actually the most important factor in minimizing skin cancer risk.
Skin cancer occurs when the DNA skin cells suffer damage that goes unrepaired. This results in an abnormal and uncontrollable growth of mutated skin cells that can become tumorous.
What Are the Types of Skin Cancer?
There are three types of skin cancers, but they’re not all created equally.
1) Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC), the most frequently occurring form of skin cancer
Doctors diagnose over 4,000,000 cases of BCC every year in the U.S.
This type of cancer affects the skin’s basal cells which are located in the deepest layer of the epidermis. Unlike the dark, mole-like appearance that other skin cancers have, basal cell carcinoma presents as reddish or pinkish patches, open sores, or scars.
2) Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC), the second most common form of skin cancer
Doctors diagnose more than 1,000,000 cases of SCC every year in the U.S.
Whereas BCC affects the deepest layer of the epidermis (i.e., outermost layer of skin), squamous cell carcinoma affects the upper layers. They are often elevated and look like red, scaly scabs or warts.
3) Melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer
Doctors diagnose over 76,380 cases of melanoma every year in the U.S.
Similar to BCC, melanoma starts forming in melanocytes (i.e., cells that form melanin or the color in your skin and hair) found within the basal layer. Although some melanomas can be pink, red, purple, blue or white in color, they often look like (and even develop from) moles. 
In most cases, these difference types of skin cancer are spurred on by short- and/or long-term exposure to ultraviolet radiation (usually in the form of sunshine or tanning beds).
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Why the Difference Between Melanoma and Other Skin Cancers Should Worry You
Although people are diagnosed with either basal and squamous cell carcinoma more frequently, these cancers are less aggressive and rarely spread to other body parts. Melanoma, on the other hand, is the rarest form of skin cancer but is extremely aggressive. Additionally, it’s the type of skin cancer that will most likely spread throughout the entire body.
Despite its aggressiveness, melanoma is often curable if you spot it early enough. That’s why examining your own skin regularly is incredibly important. No one knows your body better than you do, which is why dermatologists everywhere suggest growing your awareness with the ABCDEs of melanoma. The image below summarizes them perfectly.
In addition to these ABCDEs, you will also benefit from looking out for some other symptoms because melanomas do not always develop from moles.
- Sores that don’t seem to heal
- Swelling, redness, or other pigment that begins spreading outside of a spot
- Itchy, tender, or hypersensitive spots/moles
- Changes in an existing mole (e.g., texture, scales, oozing, bleeding)
- Dark spots in your iris, blurry vision (or partial vision loss)
Melanoma Risk Factors That Are More Worrisome Than UV Rays from Sun Exposure
Chances are when you think of melanoma, the first thing that comes to mind is overexposure to ultraviolet sunrays. Recent studies, however, suggest that applying sunscreen might not be the best way to prevent melanoma.
One 2011 study published in Melanoma Research explored the relationship between individuals with insulin resistance and their risk of developing melanoma. After comparing 55 patients against 165 age-matched and sex-matched controls, researchers found that individuals who were more insulin resistant had an increased risk of melanoma.
Another study published in the British Journal of Nutrition in February 2017 further explored people’s risk of melanoma based on both glycemic index and glycemic load. Glycemic index is a number assigned to foods based on how quickly or slowly they increase your blood sugar. Glycemic load refers to the quality and quantity or carbohydrates in any given food.[6,7]
Researchers gave 380 individuals with cutaneous melanoma a food frequency questionnaire. After analyzing the results, they found that there was no association between glycemic index and melanoma risk. However, the study did reveal that food with higher glycemic loads was associated with a greater risk of melanoma.
A meta-analysis spanning 26 years (1985-2011) analyzed results from 98 studies from 18 difference countries to determine the extent to which obesity increased the risk of numerous cancers. Researchers concluded that obese men were 1.26x more likely to develop malignant melanoma cancers.
Studies like these ones seem to suggest that maintaining a healthy weight and practicing health eating habits can directly affect and lower your risk of developing melanoma.
Did these findings surprise you, too?
The average person believes sun protection is the number one way to protect against different types of sin cancer when. But, in reality, there are other risk factors such as diet and weight that you actually have direct control over!
We aren’t suggesting you should stop protecting your skin from the sun this summer, but we hope to have grown your awareness of some of the bigger factors to help you prevent future problems. Start lowering your skin cancer risk today with the following article: 21 Simple Habits That Will Help You Attain Better Health.
 Basal Cell Carcinoma – Skin Cancer Foundation. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/basal-cell-carcinoma
 Squamous Cell Carcinoma – Skin Cancer Foundation. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/squamous-cell-carcinoma
 Melanoma – Skin Cancer Foundation. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/melanoma
 Melanoma Symptoms & Signs | CTCA. (0001, January 01). Retrieved from https://www.cancercenter.com/melanoma/symptoms/
 Antoniadis, A. G., Petridou, E. T., Antonopoulos, C. N., Dessypris, N., Panagopoulou, P., Chamberland, J. P., . . . Mantzoros, C. S. (2011, December). Insulin resistance in relation to melanoma risk. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21946019
 Harvard Health Publishing. (n.d.). Glycemic index for 60 foods – Harvard Health. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/glycemic-index-and-glycemic-load-for-100-foods
 What about Glycemic Load? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.gisymbol.com/what-about-glycemic-load/
 Malavolti, M., Malagoli, C., Crespi, C. M., Brighenti, F., Agnoli, C., Sieri, S., . . . Vinceti, M. (2017, February 15). Glycaemic index, glycaemic load and risk of cutaneous melanoma in a population-based, case–control study | British Journal of Nutrition. Retrieved from https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/british-journal-of-nutrition/article/div-classtitleglycaemic-index-glycaemic-load-and-risk-of-cutaneous-melanoma-in-a-population-based-casecontrol-studydiv/98FE2970F966F87A95614E70EE623C8D
 Dobbins, M., Decorby, K., & Choi, B. C. (2013, April 04). The Association between Obesity and Cancer Risk: A Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies from 1985 to 2011. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24977095
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