Education & Support

Your resource guide for information and support before, during, and after skin cancer treatment.

What is skin cancer?

Skin cancer is the abnormal growth of skin cells. It appears as changes to the color, shape, or size of a mole, lesion, or skin spot. These changes can be triggered by a variety of factors, including too much sunlight exposure.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. More new cases are diagnosed each year than breast, prostate, lung, and colon cancers combined. Around one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.

The skin cancer team at Henry Ford provides education and resources to help you learn more about skin cancer and how to prevent it.

Skin cancer risk factors

These are the common risk factors for skin cancer:

  • Family or personal history of skin cancer
  • Frequent tanning bed use
  • Existing conditions that suppress the immune system (HIV, rheumatoid arthritis, taking certain prescriptions)
  • Fair skin
  • History of excessive sun exposure
  • Presence of more than 50 moles on the body

Most of our patients are between age 40 and 70. However, a growing number of younger patients are beginning to develop melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer. Data from the Skin Cancer Foundation estimate the rate of melanoma in 18- to 39-year-olds increased 800 percent in young women and 400 percent in young men between 1970 and 2009. This is likely due to poor sun safety practices and tanning bed use.

Minority skin care

Though fair-skinned people are at higher risk, dark-skinned people can and do develop skin cancer. Minorities – including African Americans, Hispanics, and Asian Indians – often are diagnosed at a more advanced stage of skin cancer and tend to have worse outcomes than Caucasians.

That means skin cancer is a health concern regardless of your skin color. But skin cancer is also highly curable with early detection and treatment.

Specific skin cancer risks

Michigan residents need to be cautious about two specific risk factors -- low vitamin D levels and increased tanning bed use.

Vitamin D

Humans need vitamin D, and one source is from sunlight. Vitamin D is made in the skin after exposure to UVB rays -- the same light that causes sunburn, tanning, and other skin damage. Many people tell us they have low vitamin D levels, so they skip sunscreen to raise their levels. But that’s not how it works.

Though you need some UVB exposure, it’s important to practice sun safety. Talk to your doctor about taking a supplement if you’re concerned about your vitamin D level.

Indoor tanning

Indoor tanning greatly increases the risk of melanoma. We see more people in their 20s with melanoma because of increased tanning bed use. Tanning is the skin’s reaction to damage from sunlight or UVB rays. It’s not a way to protect yourself from sunburn or skin cancer, as some patients mistakenly believe.

Protect your skin from sun damage

Everyone should practice sun safety. Use these guidelines to reduce your risk:

  • Avoid tanning beds and sunbathing
  • Avoid sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun’s rays are most intense
  • See your doctor for an annual skin cancer screening
  • Use broad-spectrum sunscreen year round
    • Choose SPF 30 or higher
    • Re-apply every 2 hours or more often if you get wet, towel off, or sweat excessively
    • Water, sand, and snow increase your risk of sunburn by reflecting sunlight back at you
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses

Additional information

The American Academy of Dermatology offers skin cancer education and events. Their free online resources offer tips for skin cancer prevention and ways to help promote cancer awareness.

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