By: Alison Dunn Jun 14, 2010
  Article

Skin cancer is the number one form of cancer among Canadians – and it's one of the most easily prevented

The Canadian Cancer Society estimates that approximately 75,000 Canadians were diagnosed with skin cancer last year, and an estimated 270 people died from the disease. Non-melanoma skin cancers are the most common types of cancer diagnosed – and one of the easiest to prevent.

The two most common types of skin cancer are non-melanoma skin cancers: squamous cell cancer and basal cell cancer. While there's no one cause of these types of cancer, the Canadian Cancer Society says exposure to sunlight and having fair skin are the most common risk factors. Similarly, people who work, play or exercise in the sun for long periods of time are at greater risk of developing skin cancer.

That mole looks funny…

The first sign of skin cancer is a change to your skin. The problem is that it can occur anywhere on the body (although it usually starts in areas that are exposed to the sun like the head, face, neck, hands, arms and legs) and not all skin cancers look the same.

Basal cell cancers often look like a bump or a little crater with a shiny or pearly surface, while squamous cell cancers are usually reddish and scaly. How can you tell if that funny looking mole, bump or open sore is skin cancer? Try looking for these symptoms:

  • A smooth, shiny, pale or waxy bump or crater
  • A raised, solid red bump
  • A sore that does not heal
  • A sore or bump that bleeds or develops a crust or a scab
  • Pink, red or brown patches that are rough and scaly and may become itchy or tender
  • A change in the skin that starts at the site of a burn, injury or scar
  • A change in the skin that looks yellow-white when stretched
  • A scar-like change in the skin that may be white or yellow

Also, watch any moles on the skin that become asymmetrical or change colour. If you suspect a spot might be skin cancer, be sure to see your doctor as soon as possible.

Get sun smart

Want to protect your skin and prevent skin cancer? Try these tips from the Canadian Cancer Society:
Watch the clock: Plan your outdoor activities before 11 a.m. or after 4 p.m. when the sun is not at its strongest, or any time of the day when the UV Index is three or less.

  • Cover up: Choose clothing that is loose fitting, tightly woven and lightweight.
  • Cap it off: Most skin cancers happen on the face and neck. Wear a hat with a wide brim that covers your head, face, ears and neck, and remember, hats like baseball caps won’t give you enough protection.
  • You gotta wear shades: Sunglasses can help prevent damage to your eyes by blocking a large amount of UV rays. Choose sunglasses with even shading, medium to dark lenses and UVA and UVB protection.
  • Slather it on: Use a sunscreen of sun protection factor (SPF) 15 or higher, and if you work outdoors or are planning to be outside most of the day, use an SPF 30. Also, look for “broad spectrum” on the label. This means that the sunscreen offers protection against both UVA and UVB ultraviolet rays. (To learn more about choosing the right sunscreen, be sure to check out "Sun care basics" on Primacy Life.)
  • Check it out: You can never be completely safe from the sun, so check your skin regularly and report any changes to your doctor.

A journalist with more than 10 years experience, Alison’s work has appeared in a number of top Canadian publications, including glow, Oxygen, Canadian Running and more. She is the former editor of a number of well-respected Canadian and American trade journals and recipient of a Kenneth R. Wilson Gold Award of Excellence in feature article writing. She is a part-time faculty member at Sheridan College’s journalism department, as well as an avid runner and fitness enthusiast.