LPNI Health Topic – March 2015




There are some interesting statistics regarding skin cancer that are not all that well known.  Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States.  There are more than 3.5 million cases of skin cancer diagnosed annually.  This is more than the total of breast, prostate, lung and colon cancers combined.  One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.  Because many skin cancers are caused from sun exposure, there is worldwide distribution of skin cancer. However lighter-skinned people are most prone to develop skin cancers.  The ultra-violet (UV) rays of the sun and from tanning beds can destroy DNA, and the skin cannot always repair itself. 


There are three most common types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and Melanoma.  Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type.  This type usually will show up on the head, neck and back of hands  ̶  areas of greatest sun exposure.  However, it can also show up on the trunk, arms and legs.  It grows slowly but can grow wide and deep destroying skin tissue and bone.  Those with greatest risk of BCC have fair-skin with light hair and blue or gray eyes.  Also those who spend a lot of time outdoors without sunscreen or protective clothing,  who are on immune system suppressing  medications, and long-term or over exposure to X-rays are susceptible to developing skin cancer.


Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer in fair-skinned people, but people of all skin types can get SCC.  The same people as above can get SCC, but additional predispositions include exposure to cancer-causing chemicals, have previously seriously burned skin, sores or ulcers on the skin, and those who spend large amounts of time near heat sources.


Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer.  It begins in the pigment-producing cells without warning or it can begin in a mole.  One American dies every hour from melanoma.  Risk factors include being Caucasian, having biological relatives with melanoma, having more than 50 large or unusual moles and previous skin cancers.  The ABCDE Rule for recognizing melanoma is Asymetry, Border irregularity, Color (most often tan, brown or black, but also red, white or blue), Diameter (often larger than 6 millimeters), and Evolving (a change in size, shape, color, or a “different” look).  Individuals who are seriously sunburned as children have double the chance of developing melanoma.


Prevention of skin cancers cannot be complete, but protection can be implemented.  The generous use of sunscreen with SPF 30 or more and being water resistant is of great help.   This should be used on cloudy and hazy days as well as bright sunny days since the UV rays are still present.  Protective clothing (long sleeves, long pants, hats), umbrellas, sunglasses and staying in the shade will prevent strong exposure to the damaging rays of the sun.  Because Vitamin D requires sunlight for synthesis, taking additional Vitamin D is considered good practice. 


Resources come from the Skin Cancer Foundation and the American Academy of Dermatology.

Pat Crouch, RN

Faith Community Nurse

St. John Lutheran Church

Country Club Hills, IL USA