As you head to the pool, the garden, the grill or the ballpark this summer, remember to practice sun-safe behaviors that will help you avoid sun damage and prevent skin cancer.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, with more than three million Americans diagnosed each year. The good news is that most skin cancers can be avoided by following a few tips. Plus, paying attention to changes in your skin can help detect skin cancer early.
Plan to be sun safe
Get in the habit of applying broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher. Rub about two tablespoons over your entire body 30 minutes before you go out in the sun, and then reapply again after activities like swimming or other sports.
Here are other important tips for staying sun safe:
- Avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. This is when UV rays are strongest.
- Wear UV-blocking accessories or clothing. Wear UV-blocking sunglasses, long sleeves, long pants and wide-brimmed hats whenever you can.
- Never use a tanning bed. If you want a tan, get it from a bronzer, lotion or spray.
Be aware of your own skin
Those with fair skin are at high risk of skin cancer, but anyone — regardless of skin color — can get it.
Do what you can to avoid sunburns. Every time you get a sunburn, your risk of developing melanoma (the most serious form of skin cancer) increases. If you've had a sunburn more than five times, your risk doubles.
Learn skin cancer's warning signs
Knowing the "ABCDEs" of skin cancer will help you recognize the signs and symptoms of the disease in its early stages when it's most treatable.
We sometimes become blind to our own skin since we look at it every day. You want to pay close attention to changes in your own skin and have a dermatologist do the same.
Check your skin and moles once a month for the following:
- Asymmetry. Normal moles or freckles should look symmetrical on the top and bottom and from side to side.
- Border. The borders of your moles should be smooth and free of notched, jagged or blurred borders.
- Color. Each individual mole should have a consistent light or brown color throughout. Black, blue or red moles may also indicate a problem.
- Diameter. Moles should be smaller than 6 mm, which is about the size of a pencil eraser.
- Elevation. The surface of your moles should be even with the surrounding surface of your skin.
If you notice any irregularities, make an appointment with your primary care physician who can do a more thorough screening and refer you to a dermatologist if necessary.
Melanoma, however, doesn't often have these warning signs. That's why it's also important to get skin screenings regularly.
How the sun can damage your skin
Ultraviolet (UVA and UVB) radiation from the sun causes premature aging, suppresses the body's immune system, and increases the risk for skin cancer.
UVA and UVB rays are responsible for three common forms of skin cancer:
Basal cell carcinoma
This type of skin cancer appears as lesions that look like red patches, open sores or scars. Basal cell carcinoma accounts for about 80% of all skin cancers. It's linked to sun exposure and is highly treatable when detected early.
Squamous cell carcinoma
This is the second most common form, representing about 20% of all skin cancers. It often appears as a sore, red patch or wart. Squamous cell carcinoma is also linked to sun exposure and highly treatable when detected early.
Although melanoma represents a small percentage of skin cancers, it's the most deadly since it can spread to other organs. These growths vary greatly in appearance and can sometimes resemble normal moles. Melanoma is closely tied to sun damage (sunburns) early in life and tanning bed use. One study found that melanoma rates are rising in women under 40, and tanning beds could be to blame.
By following sun-safe behaviors and checking your skin for the ABCDEs, you'll have your best chance of avoiding skin cancer. Learn more about melanoma and how our experts can help.