Keeping Your Skin Healthy This Summer
The American Academy of Dermatology estimates that about 9,500 people in the United States are diagnosed with skin cancer every day, making it the most common cancer in the country. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer, and many of these cases are due to exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Learning how to protect yourself from UV radiation—especially in the summer months, when you are more likely to spend hours in the sun—and knowing what symptoms to look out for can save your life.
Types of Skin Cancer
The two most common forms of skin cancer—basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma—are known to be highly treatable when caught early. However, melanoma, the third most common skin cancer, is considered to be the deadliest of all skin cancers. According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, melanoma accounts for about 1% of all skin cancers, but the most deaths—about 7,000 people in the United States a year.
Melanoma is considered to be such a dangerous cancer because it spreads to nearby tissue easily, such as your bones, lungs or brain. Still, if caught in time, melanoma can have a 92% 5-year survival rate. Monitoring any moles you might have can help you get an early diagnosis, which can save your life.
Checking Your Moles
Most moles are not, and will not, develop into melanoma, but knowing what to look for can help you catch possibly cancerous tissue early. While melanoma typically develops most frequently on the head, neck, arms and hands—the places that get the most sun exposure—it can develop anywhere on the body.
It’s not unusual for adults to have up to 40 moles, but having 50 or more indicates an increased risk of developing melanoma. Common moles typically appear about ¼ inch wide in diameter, are round or oval in shape and are usually pink, tan, or brown in color. Most of these moles will not develop into melanoma. However, you should monitor your moles and notify your doctor if you notice any of the following:
• Uneven sizing
• Scaliness or unusual dryness
• Any changes in color, shape, texture or size
Atypical moles often present as a blend of colors, ranging from pink to dark brown. Rather than raised with an even surface like common moles, atypical moles tend to be flat, sometimes scaly, and have an uneven circumference. While most atypical moles do not develop into melanoma, the more atypical moles you have, the more likely they are to become melanoma—for example, if you have more than five atypical moles, you are ten times more likely to develop melanoma.
If you have an atypical mole, it is particularly important to protect yourself from the sun and avoid tanning or burning. If you notice your mole changing, contact your doctor.
If you have a lot of moles, it’s important to see a dermatologist regularly, so they can help you check your moles and catch any unusual changes. If you want to get screened for skin cancer but are unsure of where to start, the American Academy of Dermatology works with local groups across Georgia, hosting annual free skin cancer screening events.
Avoiding UV Exposure
The best way to reduce your likelihood of developing skin cancer is reducing your exposure to UV radiation. Both sunlamps and tanning booths can dramatically increase your risk, so avoiding those is a good place to start. Lathering up on sunscreen year-round is important too. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends:
Using sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 or higher.
Using sunscreen labeled broad spectrum. Not all sunscreens protect against both UVA rays—known as the aging ones, since exposure to these rays often causes wrinkles later in life—and UVB rays—known as the burning ones, since these rays cause your skin to burn. Unless it explicitly states broad spectrum, the sunscreen does not protect against UVA rays.
Using about 1.5 ounce’s worth of sunscreen and reapplying every two hours, or after swimming, sweating or rubbing it off with a towel.
Applying sunscreen to places that are often forgotten, like behind the ears or on the neck and lips.
Covering up in the sun—wearing long-sleeved t-shirts, a hat and sunglasses.
Skin care is important all year. However, heading into a summer full of beach days and long afternoons at the park or in the pool, it is particularly important to remember to use sunscreen—and to schedule that dermatology appointment.
Written by: Sarah Harder