According to the CDC, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in our country, with about 4.3 million adults per year seeking treatment. That being said, it doesn’t make it any easier to hear a diagnosis of melanoma, carcinomas or other forms of this disease. One thing that all dermatologists and oncologists agree on is that early detection and prevention are key to keeping your skin healthy and cancer free, no matter your age, ethnicity or family history.
The Skin Cancer Foundation, an obvious yet prolific resource for those seeking information on this disease, claims that skin cancer cases are rising rapidly, with a 77% increase in nonmelanoma skin cancers between 1994 and 2014. Even within the last 10 years, we have seen a 44% increase in the number of cases of invasive melanoma. Indoor tanning is believed to be a huge factor in the rise of cases, and one study even claims that tanning is more likely to give you skin cancer than smoking is to give you lung cancer. Outdoor sun exposure is a huge factor, too, and while most people love to feel it warming their skin, they also need to understand more about its ability to cause damage.
How do I protect my skin when the summer sun calls?
We all know that it’s vital to protect our skin from sun damage, beginning in childhood. There are some very basic guidelines in sun protection that, when followed, can vastly reduce your risk of developing skin cancer. First, seek shade when possible, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. It can be very tempting to try for that golden tan, but remember that this almost always equates to skin damage.
Wear sun-protective clothing and use sunscreen every day, even when it’s cloudy outside. A broad-spectrum sunscreen is best, as this protects from both UVA and UVB rays. Use a minimum SPF 30 or higher in order to get the best protection possible, and reapply frequently, especially if swimming. The same sunscreen rules apply to children, but they may need more frequent breaks to reapply because they are usually a busier bunch. Spray sunscreens work really well if you’re at the beach and your kids don’t yet appreciate the benefits of the exfoliation that comes with grains of sand mixed into a creamier lotion.
Self-exams and early detection
One of the best forms of protection against skin cancer is regular screenings both by you and your dermatologist. Monthly self-exams are a great habit to get into, as you are the one who knows your body best. In general, when performing a skin cancer exam, you want to look for five things, and they are easy to remember as ABCDE:
- Assymetry: One part of a mole or birthmark does not look the same as the other. In other words, is it the same all the way through or are there variations in color or size?
- Border: The edges are irregular, notched or blurred.
- Color: The color is not the same all over.
- Diameter: The spot is larger than a quarter-inch across.
- Evolving: Is it changing in size, shape or color?
If you find one or more of these things to be true about any mole or birthmark on your body, call your dermatologist to schedule a full body skin exam. In fact, it is wise for most people to head to a dermatologist at least once a year. Additionally, share with your doctor if you find that you have a sore that won’t heal, any new spots, redness or swelling beyond the border of a new mole or itching or tenderness in an area that won’t go away.
As spring turns into summer and warmer days call us to enjoy the outdoors, keep in mind that sun protection, even on cloudy days, is vital in maintaining healthy skin. Children are also susceptible to skin damage and need just as much protection as adults. Sunscreen can be a great defense in the fight against skin cancer as can sun-protective clothing. Self-exams and early detection are also key, and they could save your life or the life of someone you love. Remember to schedule routine exams with a dermatologist you trust for the best outcomes in the fight against skin cancer.