Susan Swetter talks to BeWell about avoiding skin cancer

Susan Swetter
Susan Swetter

Summer is just around the corner. So, BeWell, the university’s health promotion program, talked to SUSAN SWETTER, professor of dermatology and director of the Pigmented Lesion and Melanoma Program at the Stanford Medical Center and Cancer Institute, about the dangers of skin cancer.

How do you convince people to take skin cancer prevention seriously?

Skin cancer will affect one in five Americans over the course of their lifetime, and rates of all types of skin cancer — including keratinocyte cancers (basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma) and melanoma — continue to rise.

It is estimated that nearly 65 percent of melanomas and 90 percent of keratinocyte cancers in fair-complexioned populations worldwide are attributable to sun exposure. Therefore, prevention through avoidance of excessive ultraviolet radiation (UVR) exposure is critical.

What types of skin cancer are there?

“Nonmelanoma” skin cancers include basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, which arise from a cell type called the keratinocyte. As such, the term “keratinocyte carcinoma” is more accurate than nonmelanoma skin cancer, since there are other rare types of skin cancers that do not come from the epidermis (top layer of the skin). The latest evidence (from 2012) suggests that more than 5.4 million cases of keratinocyte carcinoma will be diagnosed in over 3.3 million persons in the United States, making this type of skin cancer the most common human cancer in our country.

Melanoma occurs much less frequently, with at least 160,000 cases diagnosed annually (including invasive and in situ types), but it is considered the most deadly skin cancer, with nearly 10,000 deaths projected to occur in 2017. Melanoma is now the fifth most common cancer in men and the sixth in women.

What preventative measures can be taken to prevent skin cancer and melanoma?

Regular sun protection practices are critical to skin cancer prevention, beginning in infancy and early childhood. It is estimated that the regular use of sunscreen with sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher during the first 18 years of life could decrease the incidence of keratinocyte carcinomas by nearly 80 percent over a person’s lifetime. In a large, randomized prospective trial conducted in Australia, regular sunscreen use significantly reduced the number of precancerous lesions called actinic keratosis, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma.

Skin aging is also dramatically reduced by regular sunscreen use. Sun protective measures should also include avoiding tanning; reducing peak UVR exposure – between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. – when possible; and wearing protective clothing, hats and sunglasses.

For more, visit the BeWell web pages.