Just like any other area of the body, you can get cancer on your lips. A common type of cancer is squamous cell carcinomas, which occurs frequently on the lips, as well as on the nose and ears. This type of cancer is normally curable when it's detected and treated early, but it may come back even after it's been treated.
It's possible, however, to take some steps toward prevention. For starters, stay out of direct sunlight during the hottest hours of the day, usually from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Also, avoid tanning, wear clothing that completely covers your body and use a sunscreen with an sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher every day [source: The Skin Cancer Foundation].
Skin cancer is fairly common when compared to other types of cancer. In fact, an estimated 10 million Americans have actinic keratosis, which leads to squamous cell carcinoma in about one out of every 10 cases [source: The Skin Cancer Foundation]. The condition shows up as a scaly or crusty growth, called a lesion, and it can be found on the lips, as well as other areas of the body that are exposed to the sun. Actinic keratosis can lead to any form of skin cancer, not just squamous cell carcinoma. In its earliest stages, cancer on the lip area may appear as a sore that doesn't heal [source: Mayo Clinic].
One potential risk for developing skin cancer on your lips may come as a surprise. Some dermatologists believe that wearing lip gloss can increase your chances of getting cancer on your lip. The shiny substance may actually attract the sun's harmful rays, damaging your lips' thin layer of skin [source: Dahl]. Instead of going for glimmering lips the next time you head for the beach, reach for a lip balm with an SPF of at least 30, or apply it underneath your gloss or lipstick [source: Preidt].
The next time you're putting on sunscreen to protect your skin against harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays and to help ward off skin cancer, don't forget your lips. For lots more information, see the links on the following page.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Dahl, Melissa. "Not Just Lip Service: Gloss Can Invite Skin Cancer." MSNBC. April 30, 2008. (Oct. 7, 2008) http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/24190829
- Mayo Clinic. "Mouth Cancer." Aug. 12, 2008. (Oct. 7, 2008) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/mouth-cancer/DS01089
- Preidt, Robert. "Lip Balms and Glosses May Boost Skin Cancer Risks." ABC News. April 27, 2008. (Oct. 7, 2008) http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Healthday/story?id=4731767
- The Skin Cancer Foundation. "Actinic Keratosis and Other Precancers." (Oct. 7, 2008) http://www.skincancer.org/Actinic-Keratosis-and-Other-Precancers.html
- The Skin Cancer Foundation. "Squamous Cell Carcinoma." (Oct. 7, 2008) http://www.skincancer.org/Squamous-Cell-Carcinoma/