Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in general for youth, young adults, and mature adults alike. There are certain ages when we might be more vulnerable by circumstance, but everyone is susceptible to sun damage at any point in our lives.
Although popular with some people, tans are the earliest signs of sun damaged skin. Pigment is created in an attempt to block the ultraviolet rays from penetrating the skin. The sun’s light will dry out the skin, and the dehydration can break down collagen and elastin. This leads to dull skin that sags and wrinkles and may result in freckles or age spots. In the worst case, a type of skin cancer may develop.
While not always the case, bad or frequent sunburns are often when skin cancer is initiated. The UV rays damage the DNA, which replicate and pass on damaged information to the next generation of cells. Cancerous growth might not develop right away, but the faulty cells may eventually dominate in an area. This is how adults may develop skin cancer when they haven’t spent much time outside in years.
Some skin cancers develop quickly, and others take a long time, over several years. A large factor in when and if skin cancer occurs is how much time you’ve been exposed to sunlight. The more often you’re in the sun, the higher risk there is for damage from the UV light.
When we’re young, our skin is very vulnerable to the sunlight since it’s still new and fragile. It takes time for our skin to mature and develop greater defenses. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t get any sun at all, but it’s important to limit exposure and to take certain precautions. Even though youth is the most vulnerable time for our skin, it’s also when we’re outside playing the most. Kids have the time and are encouraged to be outside more than adults, so it’s important that their parents apply sunscreen regularly throughout the day (every couple of hours).
Some adults do spend a lot of time outside, whether for work or for recreation. Anyone spending time in the sun at any age should wear sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or greater on skin areas not covered by clothes. Parents can build good habits for their children by applying it regularly, teaching the kids to apply it themselves, and setting an example by wearing it too. Avoiding the sun at its midday peak (10-4) is another strategy to avoid the harsher UV light while enjoying daylight hours.
The beginning stages of skin cancer often looks like a new mole but will differ in certain ways. The spot may not be perfectly round or oval, with uneven edges. It may be discolored, larger than an average mole, and it might be changing over time. If this is the case, you should have it examined by your doctor or dermatologist.
Set up an evaluation today with one of our dermatologists and make a skin cancer screening a regular part of your healthcare monitoring.