May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month

May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month. Did you know?

  • Over 80,000 cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in Canada each year.
  • There are more new cases of skin cancer each year than the number of breast, prostate, lung, and colon cancers COMBINED.
  • Canadians born in the 1990s have 2-3 times higher risk of getting skin cancer in their lifetimes (1 in 6 people) than those born in the 1960s (1 in 20).


What IS skin cancer?

Skin cancer results from cells that multiply out of control. As a result, tumors, lumps, or masses can sometimes form on normal skin and can be either benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Skin cancers are generally categorized as non-melanoma skin cancers (basal cell and squamous cell cancers) and melanoma.

There are three main types of skin cancer found in the outmost layer of skin, the epidermis. The difference among these three types of skin cancer is the types of cells that the cancer affects.

Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal Cell Carcinoma

This is the least serious and the most common. Most basal cell carcinomas are caused by exposing unprotected skin to the ultraviolet (UV) radiation in sunlight. The UV radiation damages gens that regulate cell growth and division.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

This is more serious than basal cell carcinoma but less common. Most squamous cell carcinomas are caused by exposure of unprotected skin to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Repeated, unprotected exposure to UV light, especially in the few years before diagnosis, increases the risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma. The UV radiation damages genes that regulate cell growth and division. People with weak immune systems are also at greater risk of developing squamous cell cancers.



This is the most serious and the least common. It develops in the cells (melanocytes) that produce melanin, the pigment that gives your skin its color. Melanoma can also form in your eyes and, rarely, inside your body such as in your nose or throat. The exact cause of all melanomas isn’t clear, but exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight or tanning lamps and beds increases your risk of developing melanoma.

You are more likely to develop a non-melanoma cancer if you have a family history of skin cancer, have already had skin cancer, or have fair or freckled skin, blue eyes, and light-colored or reddish hair. However, anyone who has had excessive sun exposure, severe and frequent sunburns during childhood, or lives in a sunny or high-altitude climate is at increased risk of developing skin cancer. Those who have immunosuppression drugs following an organ transplant, and other patients with suppressed or weakened immune systems are also at a higher risk of non-melanoma cancer.

Although you can’t change some of these risk factors, some ways to reduce your risk include decreasing sun exposure, using sunscreen or long-sleeved clothing, avoiding sunburns, having regular skin check-ups, and avoiding tanning lamps and beds. Daily application of SPF is also important in reducing your risk of developing skin cancer! If you notice any abnormalities, contact your family physician for a consultation.

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