M. D. Anderson Cancer Center
Date: May 2009
Duration: 0 / 03:04
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From the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, we are Focused on Health.
Your skin is your biggest organ. More than one million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year and nearly half of all Americans will have a skin cancer by age 65. Knowing the skin you’re in and how to protect it are keys to good health.
Doctors categorize skin by type to determine your skin cancer risks. Type one skin readily burns, while type six skin rarely burns. The type relates to the amount of pigment in the skin, not necessarily to your race or ethnic background. People with skin types one, two and three are at an increased risk of skin cancer. They should do more frequent skin checks and more aggressively use sun protection. People with skin types four, five and six benefit from extra melanin, or pigment, in their skin. Melanin provides some cancer protection since it protects the DNA in the skin cells.
What happens when your skin gets too much sun exposure? Immediately, you’ll notice redness, which we call sunburn. Over time, the redness fades and your skin’s pigment is increased. This is what we call a “tan.” Tan skin is not a sign of health, but rather a sign of skin damage. It is a natural response by the skin to produce additional melanin to protect the skin’s DNA.
Sunburns can vary in intensity and range from mildly uncomfortable to severe blistering burns. More severe burns may require medical treatment for basic wound care, and even topical or oral medications to reduce pain and inflammation.
Sunburns and tans are short term responses by the skin to sun exposure. But there is also a long term impact on skin called photo-aging. This is a slow process that takes many decades to become visible. Signs of photo-aging include fine and deep wrinkles, broken blood vessels, or skin that is dry, loose, sullen or yellow. Sun spots are another sign of photo-aging. Sun spots are small areas of increased pigment and another way the skin tries to protect itself.
Staying out of the midday sun and using sun protection, such as wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses and sunscreen, are important ways to reduce your skin cancer risks. Check your skin regularly and see a dermatologist once a year for a skin exam. M. D. Anderson’s Cancer Prevention Center provides skin exams as well as comprehensive cancer screening services. To make an appointment, call 1-877-MDA-6789 or submit an online patient self referral form at our Web site, www.mdanderson.org/ask.
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© 2009 The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center
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