May is Melanoma and Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month. Per the American Cancer Society, “Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. In fact, more skin cancers are diagnosed in the US each year than all other cancers combined. The number of skin cancer cases has been going up over the past few decades.
The good news is that you can do a lot to protect yourself and your family from skin cancer, or catch it early so that it can be treated effectively. Most skin cancers are caused by too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays. Most of this exposure comes from the sun, but some may come from man-made sources, such as indoor tanning beds and sun lamps.
You don’t need any x-rays or blood tests to find skin cancer early – just your eyes and a mirror. If you have skin cancer, finding it early is the best way to make sure it can be treated with success”.
Know the rules to staying sun safe and then enjoy the season!
It is a myth that exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays is justifiable in the name of vitamin D metabolism. The fact is we can get appropriate and healthy vitamin D through 15 minutes of direct sun exposure over the surface area of our hands. The incidence of skin cancer (cumulative sun exposure being the biggest risk factor) is on the rise. Basal and squamous cell carcinoma are now more common than all other cancers combined. They can be life threatening but are more commonly quality-of-life threatening—capable of destroying and deforming our skin if left untreated. If you have fair skin and live long enough, you are likely to get one of these cancer types.
1. Say no tanning beds.
Tanning beds deliver radiation—varying degrees of UVA and UVB rays, depending on the machine. Both forms of radiation cause skin cancer (and premature aging). Avoid them!
2. Say yes to sunscreen.
Put sunscreen on your body every day. Don’t forget your scalp and under your bathing suit. The best sunscreen out there is the one you will actually wear. Select a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or greater and apply it every day (and reapply every two to three hours if you are outdoors because UV radiation will destroy the sunscreen on your skin over time). If you get in the water, assume the sunscreen is gone from your skin and reapply; if you can’t reapply to your whole body (the SPF of regular clothing is only 5 to 6), at least reapply to your face and hands, which are the most common body parts affected by skin cancer and the most cosmetically sensitive. Try several brands, and choose one that you like that is affordable and that you will use.
3. Benefit from early detection.
Examine your own skin every month on your birthday for an extra 10 minutes in the shower.
- A wound that bleeds with minimal trauma (like toweling)
- A wound that won’t heal over the course of a few weeks, a skin lesion that grows larger—all are signs of skin cancer.
- Any brown or black spot on the skin that is changing (shape, color, or size) is a red flag.
Change is the most sensitive indicator of something you should have checked. At least once a year, have your skin checked by a dermatologist or primary care doctor.