Skin Cancer - Prevention, Protection & Detection

April 29, 2013 by Molly Huff

  May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, and the Skin Cancer Foundation takes this opportunity each year to alert everyone about the prevalence and dangers of skin cancer.  With 3.5 million cases and over two million people diagnosed annually, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States.  Fortunately, skin cancer is one of the most preventable forms of cancer.  The following guidelines can help in preventing skin cancer as we are heading into summer:

  • Seek the shade - especially between 10 am and 4 pm when the sun is strongest.  An extra rule of thumb is the "shadow rule."  If your shadow is shorter than you are, the sun's harmful (UV) rays are stronger.  If your shadow is longer, UV rays are less intense.
  • Do not let yourself burn.  A person's risk for melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, doubles if he or she has had five or more surnburns at any point in life.  Severe burns not only significantly increase your chances of developing skin cancer, but can also make you ill.
  • Avoid tanning and UV tanning booths.  Indoor UV tanners are 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, than those who have never tanned indoors.  Tanning bed users are also 2.5 times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma and 1.5 times more likely to develop basil cell carcinoma.  The more time a person has spent tanning indoors, the higher the risk.
  • Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.  Clothing can be your most effective form of sun protection, so make the most of it with densely woven and bright or dark colored fabrics, which offer the best defense.  The more skin you cover, the better, so choose long sleeves and pants whenever possible.
  • Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day.  For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
  • Keep newborns out of the sun since their skin is extremely vulnerable.  Sunscreens should be used on babies over the age of six months.  Children are very sensitive to UV rays - just one severe sunburn in childhood doubles the chances of developing melanoma later in life.
  • Examine your skin head-to-toe every month.  While self-exams shouldn't replace the important annual skin exam performed by a physician, they offer the best chance of detecting the early warning signs of skin cancer.  If you notice any change in an existing mole or discover a new one that looks suspicious, see a physician immediately.  To find out more about how to perform self-examination and spot a skin cancer, visit www.SkinCancer.org/selfexamination.

As the weather gets warmer, and we are spending more time at pools, lakes, beaches and generally outdoors, please take care of your skin.  If you are concerned about your risk of skin cancer and would like to speak to a doctor, contact one of the Affinity primary care physicians for an appointment.

To read more about skin cancer and to find out how you can get involved in National Skin Cancer Awareness month, check out this site.