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Skin Cancer

The skin is the body's largest organ, providing protection against heat, sunlight, injury and infection.  When prolonged or unprotected exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays has occurred, a person is at higher risk for developing skin cancer. Characterized by three different types "“ basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma "“ skin cancer is currently the most common form of cancer, afflicting more than one million Americans every year.

Out of an estimated one million U.S. cases of skin cancer, approximately 8,000 to 9,000 are terminal and about 7,500 of those fatalities are from melanoma.  Although skin cancer can occur anywhere on the body, eighty percent of non-melanoma skin cancer occurs on the upper trunks, the head and the neck.  In addition to the serious health risks exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays promotes, there are also cosmetic concerns.  Too much sun exposure advances photo aging or premature aging of the skin, meaning wrinkles and brown spots.

With the advances in cosmetic surgery, more and more methods of diminishing the appearance of sun damage are available, but the most effective way to reduce risks of skin cancer as well as maintaining a pleasing appearance is to protect the skin.  There are certain risk factors that make people more susceptible to developing skin cancer, and these groups must be especially careful about their exposure to the sun's rays.

People with fair skin are at a higher risk for skin cancer.  There are six categories skin is categorized into, with Type I being at the highest risk for skin cancer, meaning people who tan slowly and burn easily.  Genetics also affect risk factors for skin cancer.  If there is a family history of skin cancer, other family members might be predisposed to develop skin cancer as well.

Aging also increases a person's susceptibility to skin cancer, in part because of the cumulative exposure to sun, and also because of a weakened immune response.  A decreased immune cannot attack and destroy abnormal cells as efficiently, so skin cancer, as well as any other forms of cancer, is able to spread more quickly in older patients.

Despite warnings about the dangers of spending extended amount of time in the sun without protecting the skin, many young Americans continue to tan.  In an August 2005 issue of the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, it reported that in a national survey 31.7 percent of Americans had been sunburned during the previous year.  While people should not be afraid of the sun or worry constantly about skin cancer, people must be aware that serious consequences can result.  There are ways of easily reducing risk, including always using a sunscreen, wearing a hat and shirt, and sitting in the shade whenever possible.

It can be especially difficult for younger generations to fully comprehend the dangers of excessive sun exposure and skin cancer risk because of the long latency period between sun damage and the appearance of skin cancer, but health officials continue to warn all consumers about the serious and sometimes deadly risks of skin cancer.