Skin Cancer Risk Hits Home

Make Skin Protection a Priority

As summer draws near and you will likely find yourself spending more time outdoors, it’s an important time to adopt healthy sun protection habits. With the climbing rates of skin cancer in the nation, taking preventive measures to protect your skin and detecting any changes may save your life.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, an estimated one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. Almost 150,000 new cases of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, are estimated to be diagnosed in the U.S. this year.

The good news is you can take simple steps to prevent skin cancer.

  • Wear Sunscreen – UV radiation is the most preventable risk factor for all types of skin cancer. Regardless of your skin type, the ideal sunscreen must be broad spectrum which contains agents that provides protection from both UVB and UVA radiation. An SPF of at least 15 should be used year-round. When you expect to have exposure to sun or UV light, sunscreens should be water-resistant so they cannot be easily removed by sweating or swimming; have an SPF of 30 or higher; and be reapplied every two hours for continued protection. Keep in mind that sand and snow reflect the sun’s damaging rays, which can increase your chance of sunburn.
  • Seek Shade And Cover Up – The sun’s rays are the strongest between 10am and 4pm. Find the shade, and wear protective clothing such as long-sleeved shirts, pants, wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses.
  • Avoid Tanning Beds – Exposure to tanning beds increases the risk of melanoma, especially in women 45 and younger.
  • Know Your Family History – If one or more of your first-degree relatives (parent, sibling or child) had melanoma, your risk of melanoma is greater. About 10 percent of people with melanoma have a family history of the disease, according to the American Cancer Society.
  • Practice Sun Safety Habits With Kids – Teach and practice these habits with kids so they can avoid sunburn and enjoy the outdoors safely.

Skin cancer is most treatable when it’s spotted early. Learn the ABCDEs of melanoma to help detect any changes that could be suspicious.

  • A – Asymmetry: Generally, melanomas are asymmetrical, where one half of the mole does not match the other half.
  • B – Border irregularity: Look for moles with irregular, ragged, notched or blurred borders.
  • C – Color Variation: Although melanomas are usually dark brown or black, they may sometimes have a range of colors including tan, brown, blue, pink or white.
  • D – Diameter: Eventually, melanomas become larger than ordinary moles. Any pigmented spot larger than six millimeters in diameter (the size of a regular pencil eraser) should be examined and followed carefully.
  • E – Evolution: Some early melanomas begin to increase in size, elevation, color or sensation. A lesion that begins to change in this fashion should be checked immediately.

Take a few minutes to check your skin once a month for signs of skin cancer. If you notice any of the “ABCDE” signs or any other changes in your skin, see a dermatologist right away.

Lawrence Samuels, MD, is the chief of dermatology at St. Luke’s Hospital. To connect with a dermatologist, visit STLukes-STL.com or call 314.205.6060.