13 Surprising Clues to Skin Cancer Risk
Fully half of all cancer cases are skin cancer, making it the most common type of cancer in the U.S. In fact, one in five Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer at some point in life. You probably know that your risk of developing skin cancer is greater if you're fair skinned and burn easily. Who else should worry?
Check the following 13 clues to who will get skin cancer. If you're in one of these groups, you'll want to be vigilant about using sunscreen, making regular skin checks, and avoiding the sun's harshest midday rays.
Clue #1: You often wear flip-flops.
Before flips-flop sandals came along, most leisure shoes were sneakers or sandal styles, like huaraches, which largely covered the feet. In barely-there flip-flops, your toes and the tops of your feet are in danger of damaging burns unless you add sunscreen or socks. Flimsy footwear can also lead to irritations, cracking, bleeding, and open sores -- which are the most common sites for foot skin cancers to develop. Unfortunately, feet are often overlooked during skin checks, according to the American Podiatric Medicine Association.
Scary stat: Half of those diagnosed with melanoma of the foot die within five years because the cancer has already spread through the body, says the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons.
Smart step: Cover your feet whenever you can with sunscreen or footwear -- or a blanket. "On the beach, people tend to fall asleep on their stomach, leaving the soles of the feet exposed. You can then get severe burns there," says dermatologist Diane C. Madfes, assistant clinical professor at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York City and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Dermatology. "It's easy to just throw a towel over your feet first."
Clue #2: You wear baseball caps.
Many of us grab a ball cap to shield our eyes and face from the sun -- too bad these hats leave the tips of the ears exposed to damaging UV rays. And the ears happen to be an area of skin that most people don't remember to slather with sunscreen.
Scary stats: Ears are also the third most common site of basal cell carcinoma (the most common form of skin cancer). The ear is where doctors often find squamous cell carcinoma (an easily-treated form, usually found on sun-exposed skin). In a 2007 study, most victims of ear skin cancer were men; their shorter hair is also thought to be a factor.
Smart step: Along with remembering to dab sunscreen on your ear tips, pay extra attention to your cheek tops. Hat brims and sunglasses often provide coverage that stops right there, Madfes says. "We see a lot of spots from sun damage at the rim just under the glasses."
Clue #3: You're a man.
Scientists aren't sure if habits, genes, or hormones -- or a combination of these and other factors -- are to blame. (Women, for example, may get more protection from their makeup, whether or not it contains zinc and SPF, as well as from their longer hair, Madfes says.) Whatever the reason, men have three times more squamous cell cancers and twice as many basal cell cancers as women, and after age 40, more cases of melanoma, the deadliest form. In fact, white men over age 50 have the highest incidence of melanoma.
Scary stats: Melanoma is one of only three cancer types with mortality rates still on the rise in men (along with liver cancer and esophageal cancer). Men get skin cancer more often than colon, prostate, and lung cancer.
Smart step: If, like many men, you dislike applying lotion to your face, consider one of the newer powder sunblocks. "Quick swipes of the face and ears with a powder are easier for some guys," Madfes says.