May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month

by Sue Taggart

A very daunting statistic:

One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime.

There is something about being in the sun that sometimes makes it difficult to realize just how dangerous those warming, bright, relaxing rays can be. While we all need the Vitamin D that the sun provides, it can come with a very high price tag. Over 90% of the diagnosed skin cancer cases each year are caused by the sun’s ultraviolet rays (UVR). Similarly, most of the skin damage we associate with aging – wrinkles, sagging, leathering, and discoloration – is UVR-related. This damage is cumulative. So, whenever you venture out in the sun, be smart about it and get into the habit of developing a simple sunscreen regimen:

Avoid burning at all costs—even a single sunburn increases your risk of developing melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer; suffering five or more sunburns doubles your lifetime risk. If you see or feel your skin redden, take cover.

Stay in the shade—especially between 10 AM and 4 PM. That is when the sun’s rays are usually strongest. If you’re outside, head for cover – or keep a sun umbrella in your bag. And take advantage of early morning and late afternoon to indulge in your favorite outdoor activities.

Forget about tanning—some people associate a golden tan with good health, but if you are exposing yourself to a higher risk of skin cancer, how can that possibly be healthy? Frying on the beach or cooking in a tanning booth are equally as dangerous. If you want a golden glow there are some really good (natural) self-tanners available.

Always, always use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen—with an SPF of 15 or higher every day even if you are only going to be outside for a short while. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. And don’t forget to reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.

Use enough sunscreen—this is not a time to be conservative! One or two tablespoons of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside.

Keep covered up—with light, loose clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses. Summer clothes are fun and sexy, but don’t forget bare arms and legs need sun protection too.

Take extra care of babies—Newborns should be kept out of the sun and sunscreens should be used on babies over the age of six months. An infant’s skin possesses little melanin, the pigment that gives color to skin, hair and eyes and provides some sun protection. Therefore, babies are especially susceptible to the sun’s damaging effects. Just one severe burn in childhood doubles the chances of developing melanoma later in life.

A little prevention goes a long way—examine your skin head-to-toe every month and see your dermatologist once a year for a professional skin exam.

If you notice something—go to your doctor right away. Don’t put it off. Some changes on your skin to look out for include:

  • a spot or sore that continues to itch, hurt, crust, scab, erode or bleed
  • an open sore that does not heal within two weeks a skin growth, mole, beauty mark or

brown spot that:

  • changes color or appears pearly, translucent, tan, brown, black or   multicolored
  • changes in texture
  • increases in size or thickness
  • is asymmetrical
  • is irregular in outline or border
  • is bigger than 6mm, the size of a pencil eraser

Become more educated about skin cancer—there are 2 main types of skin cancers: keratinocyte cancers (basal and squamous cell skin cancers) and melanomas.

  • Basal and squamous cell skin cancers are by far the most common cancers of the    skin. They develop from cells called keratinocytes, the most common cells in the skin.
  • Melanomas are cancers that develop from melanocytes, the cells that make the    brown pigment that gives skin its color. Melanocytes can also form benign (non-cancerous) growths called moles.

By taking a little preventive care you will be able to enjoy your time in the sun and greatly reduce the risk of serious skin issues.

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