Categorized | Healthy Lifestyle

Skin cancer primer: Testing and lifestyle key to success

By Judith headshot_jboyko

Melanoma. Basal, Squamous and Merkel cell. Lymphoma. Kaposi Sarcoma. There’s an alphabet soup of skin cancers, but what are they?

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Skin cancer — the abnormal growth of skin cells — most often develops on skin exposed to the sun.”

Basal cell and squamous cell are non-melanomas that develop on areas of the skin most commonly exposed to the sun. They grow slowly and rarely spread to other parts of the body. When found and treated early, these skin cancers can typically be cured.

Melanomas are more serious skin cancers. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), melanoma was expected to account for more than 76,600 cases of invasive skin cancer in 2013. “It accounts for more than 9,000 of the 12,000-plus skin cancer deaths each year.”

Who’s at risk? ACS says that there are several risk factors for both non-melanoma and melanoma skin cancers. They include:

•Unprotected and/or excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation;

•Pale skin (easily sunburned, doesn’t tan much or at all, natural red or blond hair);

•Occupational exposures to coal tar, pitch, creosote, arsenic compounds or radium;

•You or other members of your family have had skin cancers;

•Multiple or unusual moles;

•Severe sunburns in the past.

So, how can we protect ourselves from developing skin cancer in the first place?

Wear sunscreen every day — even in the winter. Even older adults whose skin has been exposed to the sun over the course of a lifetime can benefit from wearing sunscreen. Unprotected skin at any age can be a risk factor for developing skin cancer. Sunscreen with an SPF of 30 should be applied regularly to areas exposed to the sun: ears, face, arms, legs and hands.

Wear a wide-brimmed hat to create shade. Pants and long sleeved shirts can also offer sun protection. Some clothing even has UV protection built in.

On days when the UV index is six to 10 (high and very high), stay indoors and avoid sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. High and very high UV indexes mean that “protection against skin and eye damage” is needed and that people should take “extra precautions because unprotected skin and eyes will be damaged and can burn quickly,” according to the EPA.

You know your skin better than anyone else. If you notice a change that causes concern, see a dermatologist. A dermatologist can look closely at the skin — focusing on growths, moles and dry patches — to determine whether a something requires a closer look and/or removal and subsequent biopsy. The American Academy of Dermatology says that “skin cancer cannot be diagnosed without a biopsy.” It is a quick, easy and safe procedure for a dermatologist to perform, according to the academy.

Judith Boyko, MBA, MS, RN, is CEO of Century Health Systems, Distinguished Care Options and Natick Visiting Nurse Association. She can be reached at For information, visit, or or call 508-651-1786. 


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