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Your Health / A risk of riding: skin cancer!

10 May 2018

Sun seering through the clouds with harmful UV
Sun seering through the clouds with harmful UV—Photo: NOAA

Basal cell

Contributor: Michael Sorace, MD Mohs Micrographic & Skin Surgery, San Antonio

As another risk of cycling besides crashes or dehydration is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation that can lead to skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in all human beings. These tumors occur most often on the head and neck which are areas often exposed while cycling. There are three main forms of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer. These tumors arise from the bottom layer of the epidermis—the outermost layer of skin. Basal cell carcinomas do not frequently spread through the bloodstream to distant sites of the body, but they will relentlessly grow and destroy surrounding tissue leading to significant scarring. Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common form of skin cancer. Squamous cell carcinomas behave more aggressively than basal cell carcinomas. They can rarely spread to distant organs such as lymph nodes and cause significant problems. The early from of squamous cell carcinoma is called squamous cell carcinoma in-situ, also known as Bowen's disease.

Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer—a leading cause of skin cancer-related deaths. This affects the melanocyte cells, for which the cancer gets its name; these cells are responsible for setting up skin and hair color.

Kelly Nelson, NIH
Squamous cell
There are four types of melanomas: superficial spreading, nodular melanoma, lentigo maligna melanoma, and acral lentiginous melanoma.

The superficial spreading type—usually irregular in shape and color—is the most common and found most often in Caucasians. The nodular type is usually a blackish-blue or bluish-red raised area; however, some have no color. Usually found in the elderly is the lentigo maligna type usually as a result of sun exposure usually around the face, neck, and arms. They appear large and flat with shades of brown. Finally, the acral lentiginous melanoma is the most common form found among African Americans; however, it is the least common form overall. Ultraviolet light is probably the most important cause of skin cancer, but it is only part of the blame. Scientists have proven that DNA damage can be a result of UV exposure from sunlight or tanning salons. It is also believed that exposure to certain toxins or some substance that can weaken the immune system may raise the risk of contracting cancer. Certain genetic predispositions can also raise the risk of skin cancer.

The best prevention is reducing exposure to sunlight. It is most intense between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. (10:00-16:00); these are the times to avoid it if at all possible. Wear hats, long-sleeved shirts, and strapped pants to avoid exposure. Some clothing even has an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) rating. UPF is a rating system used to evaluate the amount of sun protection a person receives from apparel.

Melanoma cell
Always use sunscreen! Make it standard operating procedure to use Sun Protection Factor (SPF) 30 or higher sunscreen. Also, look for both UVA and UVB blockers with waterproofing formulation. Products containing Zinc or Titanium are generally the broadest blockers of the suns rays. Stop every 30 minutes and apply the sunscreen. Sweat tends to remove the protection. Remember, sunscreen is required year round whether or not the sun is out. UV goes through clouds like radar!

May 2013

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