It is crucial to recognize that the problems that may be caused by the sun.

by Dave Harney

(TAH) – Science has long recognized the role of ultraviolet (UV) rays in causing serious skin diseases. UV rays can suppress the skin’s immune function and damage DNA, which may cause your skin to burn and age prematurely, and could also lead to skin cancer. Even worse, too much sun over time can diminish your skin’s ability to defend or repair itself as it should. A wide variety of problems can result, ranging from wrinkles, freckles, and sunspots to precancerous and cancerous skin conditions. Unfortunately, unlike these visible problems, there are additional problems that are not always detected by the naked eye. If you have noticeable damage on the surface of your skin, keep in mind there may be additional, unseen damage nearby. Therefore, it is crucial to recognize that the problems you can see may just be the tip of the iceberg.

One common example of sun-diseased skin is actinic keratosis or AK. This is considered a precancerous skin condition affecting over 10 million Americans each year. According to Holly Hahn, M.D., of the Genesee Valley Laser Centre in Rochester, NY, if left untreated, AK lesions can progress to squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), the second-leading cause of skin cancer deaths in the United States. Therefore, says Hahn, it’s important to treat AK as soon as it is diagnosed so you have a greater chance of preventing further damage.

Actinic keratosis can take a long time to develop, most often appears after age 40, and becomes more prevalent as you age. Actinic keratosis lesions typically appear as rough, red, scaly patches, or crusts on the skin. They usually measure less than one-quarter inch across and are found primarily on areas of the body exposed to the sun. Skin lesions that are squamous cell carcinomas tend to appear similar but are thicker and larger.

Basal Cell Carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer. It starts as a raised, pearly white, pink, or red nonhealing lesion. And the most medically concerning skin cancer is melanoma. This lesion is usually a dark brown or black, multi-colored spot that has an irregular shape and is often larger than an inch.

Dr. Hahn recommends that if you have a lesion that has persistent itch, burn, or bleed over 2 weeks, or if one particular spot on the skin bothers you, then it is time to see a doctor. Individuals who have had skin cancer should have life-long professional skin examinations.

There are several approaches to treating AKs and skin cancers. These include freezing, scraping, surgical excision, , lasers, chemical peels, dermabrasion, photodynamic therapy, and topical prescription medications. If you think you have skin cancer, consult with your doctor to determine which treatment is best for you.

In order to reduce the risk of AK and skin cancer, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends adopting a comprehensive sun protection program that includes wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher; reapplying sunscreen every 2 hours when out in intense sun; wearing protective clothing; avoiding the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when UV rays are strongest; and seeing your dermatologist annually. Also, one can easily learn to perform skin self-checks on a routine basis.