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Skin Cancer Awareness

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As summer approaches and we begin planning all our outside activities, it’s important to remember sun safety and being responsible for our health when outdoors. It only takes 15 minutes in the sun for UV rays to cause damage, and regular exposure could create the perfect storm for skin cancer.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S., and is also the most preventable. Every year, about 5.4 million cases of skin cancer are reported; that is more than the combined occurrences of breast, colon, prostate and lung cancer each year! By age 65, it is estimated that 50% of Americans will have skin cancer at least once.

Risk Factors:

Everyone is at risk of skin damage from the sun, but some people have a greater possibility. Risk factors for skin cancer include:

  1. Exposure: Those who work outdoors are most at risk.
  2. Skin type: Although all skin types are at risk, those with fair skin, are most at risk.
  3. Hair color: Those with blonde and red hair are at higher risk.
  4. Eye color: Blue and green eyes tend to have higher chances.
  5. Location: Those who live further south tend to have more sun exposure.
  6. Lifestyle: Higher risk of skin cancer for:
    1. Those who have had serious sunburns early in life
    2. Use tanning beds
    3. Have had any type of skin cancer before
    4. Have a weakened immune system for any reason, including chemotherapy, organ transplant, lymphoma or HIV/AIDS.
  7. Family History: Those with a family history of skin cancer are at greater risk.
    1. If your parents, siblings, or child(ren) have had skin cancer, you are 50% more likely to get skin cancer.
    2. If your grandparent, aunt, uncle, niece, or nephew have had skin cancer, you are also at greater risk.


In addition, the risk for melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, doubles for those who have had at least five sunburns in their lifetime.


Checking Your Skin for Skin Cancer:

The best way to catch skin cancer is to be vigilant, including going to the dermatologist for annual check-ups and performing monthly self-exams to look for any suspicious moles, bumps, or other discolorations on the skin. Use the ABCDE’s of skin cancer to help detect if any areas are cause for concern.

Asymmetrical. The two halves of the mole do not match if you were to draw a line through it.

Border. An early melanoma often has uneven edges.

Color. A growth that is more than one color should prompt a visit to your doctor for further evaluation.

Diameter. A melanoma is usually larger than the size of a pencil eraser, although they can be smaller when first detected.

Evolving. Any change in size, shape or color, or any new symptom such as bleeding, itching or crusting, is a sign that you should make a call to your doctor.

If any of the markings on your body fit the categories above, or have changed since your last exam, you should make an appointment with a dermatologist to review. In addition, knowing the warning signs of skin cancer can help you detect a problem early. If you notice any of the following, visit your dermatologist for an exam.

  1. An open sore or bump that itches, bleeds, crusts over and then repeats for more than three weeks.
  2. A red, irritated patch on the skin.
  3. A shiny bump of any color.
  4. A pink growth with an elevated border and a crusted indentation in the center or a growth that looks like a wart.
  5. A scar-like area where the skin is shiny and tight.
  6. Asymmetry, uneven borders, more than one color, large diameter or changes to moles – these are the signs of melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer.


Preventing Skin Cancer:

Getting annual checkups with a dermatologist and performing monthly self-exams, is best way to catch skin cancer early. The best way to prevent skin cancer from ever starting, is to be smart about sun safety. It is extremely important to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays every time you are exposed to the sun.  It doesn’t matter if your only exposure is in the car, driving to and from work, or if you are lounging poolside; sun safety is vital to lowering your chances of getting skin cancer. Even if the damage is already done and you have baked in the sun for decades, it is never too late to start taking care of your skin.

Follow these simple tips for sun-safe skin:

Always wear sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 15. Broad spectrum sunscreens are best as they absorb a higher percentage of UVA and UVB sun rays.

Apply sunscreen generously to all exposed areas at least 20 to 30 minutes before going outside. This allows the sunscreen to bind to your skin so it won’t immediately “sweat” off.

Make sure to apply sunscreen to the places you typically might not think of: your lips, ears, between your fingers and toes, back of your neck, even the bottoms of your feet if you will be barefoot and lying on your stomach. Reapply sunscreen every few hours and especially after swimming.

Avoid peak hours — usually between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. This is when the sun’s rays are most intense.

Wear a wide-brim hat, sunglasses and other protective clothing. Hats with at least a three-inch brim are best; sunglasses should protect against UVB rays; clothing should be lightweight and tightly woven for the most protection. You can test to see if your clothing has an adequate weave by placing your hand inside the garment and holding it up to a light. If you can’t see your hand through the fabric, it’s probably a good choice for cover.

Stay shaded under a canopy or umbrella when outdoors during peak hours.

Don’t sunbathe.

Don’t use artificial tanning devices, such as tanning beds or lamps. Instead, try a safer self-tanning product. Smear it on with a pair of latex or plastic gloves to avoid bronzing your palms, let it dry a few minutes and go. Remember to use sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 15 underneath self-tanning products, since they typically don’t contain any protection.


Resources Articles, Self-Assessments, & Quizzes

Skin Cancer Foundation

Shade Foundation

National Cancer Institute

American Cancer Society

Centers for Disease Control & Prevention

National Institutes for Health

American Academy of Dermatology

Self-Exam Video

Self-Exam Printable

How to Choose the Best Sunscreen

UV Index Prediction Mobile App

Where Does Your Skin Fit In? Quiz

Sun Hazards in Your Car

Dark Skin Tones and Skin Cancer