It's that time of year again — SUMMERTIME! I love to be outside and soak it in, but I want to be careful about too much exposure. My father-in-law recently had a battle with skin cancer, so I know how bad it can be. I also know that there are ways to enjoy the sun and still be safe. Jewell Gaulding, MD, from The Christ Hospital had some great tips about preventing skin cancer and knowing the signs.
Ways to prevent skin cancer
I love to be out in the sun, whether it's at the beach or at a pool. However, I have gotten a sunburn more than once, so I wanted to know ways to decrease my chance of developing skin cancer while still enjoying being outdoors. Dr. Gaulding told me this, "Try to seek shade and avoid direct sun exposure, especially during the peak hours of 10 a.m.–2 p.m. It is also important to wear broad spectrum sunscreen SPF 30+, and if you are outside more than two hours, reapply it. Don't forget your lips! A lip balm with a SPF of 30+ should also be used. In addition, make sure that you are wearing the appropriate amount of sunscreen on all exposed skin. For the entire body of an adult this is typically enough to fill a shot glass. If you haven't found a sunscreen you like or you find yourself forgetting to use one, then you can wear sun-protective clothing. This includes sunglasses with ultraviolet (UV) protection, wide brimmed hats and clothing with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) number or a lightweight long sleeve shirt and long pants."
The first signs of skin cancer
I have been more alert to watching for signs of skin cancer since my father-in-law had skin cancer. I will say due to my exposure over the years, it does worry me. Dr. Gaulding had this to say, "There are three main types of skin cancer — basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and melanoma. The first sign of non-melanoma skin cancer (BCC and SCC) is a non-healing lesion. Sometimes these will have a pearly or scaly appearance. Occasionally, they can be itchy and/or bleed easily. It is also concerning if a mole or other skin lesion is changing size, shape or color. If any of these warning signs are present, you should be evaluated by a board-certified dermatologist." So, now I know what to look for and when I need to be seen about a problem.
Skin cancer screenings
I have a lot of friends who talk about getting a skin cancer screening, and it has always been in the back of my mind. Should I get one, even if I don't think I have any problem spots? This is what Dr. Gaulding recommended to me, "There is not a universal standard for when to get a skin cancer screening. However, it is important that each person understands their own skin with monthly self-exams. It is also important to recognize that you are at increased risk if you are sensitive to the sun, have more than 50 moles, have a personal or family history of skin cancer and/or a personal or family history of pancreatic cancer, breast cancer or thyroid cancer. You are also at increased risk if you have had significant sun exposure through work (e.g. lifeguard, farmer, construction worker) or leisure activities (tanning bed use >10 times over your lifetime and/or >5 blistering sunburns). A skin cancer screening involves having your skin examined by a board-certified dermatologist. During the screening, a magnifying glass and/or a dermatoscope may also be used. If there are any concerning lesions, a sample of skin may be taken."
Tanning beds vs. spray tans
I grew up in the '80s, right in the middle of the tanning bed craze, and yes, I was one of those girls who wanted to have a tan year-round. Back then, we didn't know the dangers of using one. But they are bad! Now I am a fan of a good spray tan, and Dr. Gaulding says that I am making the right choice, but here are some other things to remember. She says, "Tanning beds are not a good option. The ultraviolet rays that are produced from tanning beds are considered carcinogens — meaning that they are capable of causing skin cancer and therefore should be avoided. Spray tans are good alternatives; however, do not forget to wear sunscreen or sun-protective clothing as well during times of sun exposure."
Dr. Gaulding had some great tips that have helped me know what to do and what not to do, but there are some other things she told me that I really never thought of. She further recommends, "Don't forget that ultraviolet light can also come through the windows in your home and the windshield and windows in your car, so don't forget to wear sunscreen and/or sun-protective clothing during these times as well. Also rain, snow and sand can reflect rays that can be damaging to your skin. Furthermore, if you are going to be outside more than 15–20 minutes, it is important to protect your skin through the use of sunscreen and/or sun-protective clothing. Sun-protective clothing is becoming more and more fashionable. Remember that anyone can get skin cancer, regardless of age, gender or race. Protecting yourself from the sun can not only decrease your risk of skin cancer, but it can also prevent skin aging."
Learn more about dermatology services at The Christ Hospital or find a dermatologist near you.