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Moles, the sun and skin cancer: what you need to know

The humble mole in and of itself is not a bad thing. Au contraire—beauty icons from Marilyn Monroe to Cindy Crawford have proven that a well-placed mole in just the right spot can even give you a certain je ne sais quoi. But before you go rushing out into the sun to cultivate those beauty marks, consider reaching for the non-smudge eyeliner to paint one on à la Amy Winehouse instead.

30% of melanoma skin-cancer cases develop from a pre-existing mole*.

Having more than 50 common moles may increase one's risk of melanoma**. More moles = more risk.

The fact of the matter is that while it’s perfectly normal to be born with a few moles—most of us have at least 20 scattered across our face and body—the more a person has, the greater their risk of developing skin cancer. And since sun exposure plays a major role in determining how many moles we develop during childhood and adolescence (and how big they are), being vigilant about proper sun protection for children and teenagers is a crucial first step in minimizing their risk of skin cancer later in life.

Having 2 sunburns a year or more between 10 and 19 years old rises melanoma risk by 82%***

Excessive sun exposure without proper protection can also cause existing moles to go rogue and develop into cancerous lesions, so make sure to keep your moles safe from UVA and UVB rays, just as you do with the rest of your skin.


WHAT DOES SKIN CANCER LOOK LIKE?

Not all our little mole friends are created equal, but knowing which ones pose a risk could save your life. Here are three common types of skin lesions to keep an eye out for :


Actinic Keratosis or Solar Keratosis

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These scaly red patches are not actually skin cancer (yet). Rough to the touch, they usually show up after prolonged, repeated sun exposure, and have an annoying habit of coming back once they’ve made a first appearance. These lesions are pre-cancerous, they may develop into squamous cell carcinomas so they should be treated to prevent progression.


Carcinoma(i)

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Carcinomas represent the most common form of skin cancer cases and usually start off as small, shiny bumps on the nose or face, although they can also develop on other parts of the body. Mainly caused by frequent and unprotected sun exposure during early adulthood, they are slow-growing and can be treated if detected early. Carcinomas tend to develop on the face, so catching one late in the game may leave you with an unsightly scar in the place you least want it. In case of doubt, check with a dermatologist as soon as possible.


Melanoma

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Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer. Although it is rarer than other forms of the disease, it is also the deadliest. Melanoma is usually brought on by short, intense bursts of sun exposure, like sunburn, and manifests as a brown or black spot on healthy skin. In approximately 30% of cases, it develops from a pre-existing mole.

If diagnosed early, melanoma is often curable with proper medical treatment. Left undetected, it can spread at an alarming rate. If you think you have a lesion that could be melanoma, run, don’t walk, to the dermatologist. How quickly you deal with it could save your life.

Check early and check often: 90% of melanoma cases are curable if caught in time****

TANNING BEDS: FRIEND OR FOE?

A tan is a built-in defense mechanism that protects you from the harmful effects of UVB rays… So spending quality time at the tanning salon must mean you’re helping your skin defend itself against cancer, right? Wrong. Most tanning salons use UVA rays to give you that golden-brown hue because they don’t cause sunburns. But those sneaky UVAs penetrate deeper into your skin, causing it to age prematurely and actually increasing your risk of developing skin cancer.

Making sure you’re up to speed on how to identify suspicious moles is crucial when it comes to battling skin cancer, since 90% of melanoma cases are curable if caught in time. Even better, head skin cancer off at the pass before it has a chance to develop by being vigilant about using proper UV protection for your moles and your skin.

* http://www.euromelanoma.org/intl/node/77
** https://www.consumerreports.org/cancer/could-that-old-mole-be-skin-cancer/
*** Journal of the National Cancer Institute 2003
**** Source: www.euromelanoma.org/intl/node/25 epidemiological fact sheet
i Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma

THE BEST SUN PROTECTION FOR ME

Our 3 steps approach to protect yourself against cancer

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