You may feel healthier with a bit of a tan, but the sunlight that warms our bones and make flowers grow contains ultraviolet (UV) radiation that can damage the skin. Exposure to UV radiation from sunlight can lead to sunburn, which causes premature wrinkling and changes in skin pigmentation, and can lead to skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most diagnosed type of cancer in the U.S. The good news is that skin cancer can be prevented, and it can almost always be cured when it’s found and treated early.
The most common types of skin cancer are basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma, which tend to result from years of prolonged exposure to the sun. Melanoma is a rare, but more dangerous form of skin cancer and it is more likely to spread to other parts of the body.
Knowing your Risk
Anyone can get skin cancer. The risk is highest for people with:
- White or light-colored skin with freckles
- Blond or red hair
- Blue or green eyes
You are at higher risk for melanoma if you have:
- Unusual moles
- A large number of moles (more than 50)
- A family history of melanoma
Get to Know the ABCDEs of Your Moles
To detect skin cancer early, examine your skin all over your body and watch for changes over time. By checking your skin regularly, you’ll discover what is normal for you.
The best time to check your skin is after a shower or bath. Use a full-length mirror and a hand-held mirror in a room with plenty of light. Check yourself from head to toe and learn where your moles are and their usual look and feel.
Malignant moles can vary in appearance. Keep in mind the ABCDE’s when checking your moles:
- Asymmetrical Shape: Look for moles with irregular shapes
- Border: Look for moles with uneven, ragged or blurred borders
- Color Changes: Look for growths that have many colors (brown, black, tan and sometimes patches of red, blue or white) and an uneven distribution of color
- Diameter: Look for growths larger than ¼ inch (the size of a pencil eraser)
- Elevation: Look for moles raised from the skin
“Also, pay attention to growths that ooze, itch, bleed, cause pain, get scaly or crusty, become hard or lumpy or spread their pigment into surrounding skin,” says Paul G. Rolincik M.D., Chief of Dermatology at Norwood Hospital and Dermatologic Surgeon at Dermatology Associates, P.C. with offices located in Norwood, Foxboro and Franklin. “These can also be signs of a possible skin cancer.”
Protect Your Skin from the Sun
Most skin cancer appears after age 50, but skin damage from the sun can start during childhood. The best way to prevent skin cancer is to protect your skin from the sun and other sources of UV rays, such as tanning beds or sun lamps.
Follow these steps to protect your skin:
- Stay in the shade as much as possible between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen. You need one that blocks UVA and UVB rays, with a SPF of 30 or higher.
- Wear a broad-brimmed hat.
- Wear long sleeves and long pants when possible.
- Protect your ears, nose, cheeks, and hands. Since the majority of skin cancers occur on these areas, consider them top priority.
- Don’t skip the lips. Look for a waterproof or water-resistant, lip-specific product with a high SPF. Plan on reapplying often as lips are moist and lip balms have a tendency to wear off easily.
- Wear sunglasses. Choose sunglasses with UV protection. This will also protect the delicate skin around the eyes.
If you have any question about your risk for skin cancer or find anything unusual during a skin exam, talk to your doctor. If you need help scheduling a dermatology appointment, visit www.dermatology-pc.com or call 781-762-5858.
*Source: American Cancer Society, www.cancer.org
*Source: National Cancer Institute, www.cancer.gov/types/skin/self-exam