When the sun is shining and the weather is warm, we naturally want to be outside engaging in activities that only warmer temperatures permit. After all, most of us only get a few months out of the year, so we’d better enjoy it! While we’re soaking up those rays, we should also keep in mind that sun exposure, despite its beneficial qualities, has the power to negatively impact our health. Each year in the U.S., nearly 5 million people are treated for skin cancer; and, over the past three decades, more people have had skin cancer than all other cancers combined!
In most cases, skin cancer is treatable if detected early. The American Cancer Society advises us to be on the lookout for the following signs that appear in sun-exposed areas of the skin:
Basal cell cancer, the most common type of skin cancer, is usually small, red, and easily mistaken for a pimple. If left untreated for more than 20 years, it could eat away at your skin.
Squamous cell cancer usually takes the form of scaly, hard, red patches that won’t heal. Although not immediately dangerous, they are more likely than basal cell cancer to spread internally.
Melanoma, the most dangerous of skin cancers, is usually a dark, multicolored growth that could appear anywhere on your body, including surfaces that rarely see the sun. Melanoma often occurs where there is a mole, so it’s a good idea to become familiar with the moles on your body, and note any changes that may occur. Use the “ABCDE” rule to help identify a normal mole or other marking from one that could be melanoma. Consult your dermatologist immediately if any of your moles or pigmented spots show the following:
- Asymmetry: One half is different from the other
- Border irregularity: Border is scalloped or not completely circular
- Color variation: The color varies in shades of tan, black, brown, or even sometimes white, red, or blue, from one area to another
- Diameter: The mole’s diameter is larger than 6mm, or the size of a pencil’s eraser
- Evolving: A mole or skin lesion that looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape, or color
If you detect any unusual sore, lump, blemish, or change in the way an area of the skin looks or feels, consult your doctor.
Skin cancer did-you-knows
- Certain medications can cause your body to be more susceptible to sunburn. Check with your physician or pharmacist, and always read the labels and inserts on medicine bottles to ensure that the medication you are taking doesn’t make you more UV-sensitive.
- The risk of developing melanoma rises by more than 50 percent after you have already been diagnosed with one form of skin cancer.
- The two greatest risk factors for developing skin cancer are fair skin that is prone to burning rather than tanning, and extreme exposure to the sun.
- It is never too late to start protecting your skin. It is possible to restore collagen and elastin, the tissues responsible for keeping the skin smooth, by protecting yourself even after years of sun exposure.
- Apply sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher at least 20 minutes before going out in the sun. Apply liberally every 2 hours (about 1 ounce per application, the size of a shot glass).
- Don’t neglect your lips, feet, ears, and nose. They burn easily and are highly susceptible to skin cancer. Do not use regular sunscreen on your lips. Apply lip balm that contains sunscreen instead.
- Don’t be fooled by cloudy days; most of the sun’s rays shine through the clouds.
- Dress in light, loose clothes when out in the sun. If your shirt is loosely woven, apply sunscreen to your body before dressing.
- Wear sunglasses with UV protection to help prevent eye diseases.
- If you are balding, wear a hat or apply sunblock with at least 15 SPF when going out in the sun. Try wearing a bathing cap while swimming, as burns often occur in the water.
- Many people think that a base tan acts as a substitute for sunscreen. A tan, however, only offers an SPF of two or three, at most. To minimize your risk of burning, apply sunscreen when you are out in the sun.
- Consume plenty of water in the summer months to prevent dehydration.
Article originally published on humana.com, March 2014. Accessed March 2015.
1 Skin Cancer Foundation, “Skin Cancer Facts,” accessed March 2015, http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/skin-cancer-facts
2 American Cancer Society, “Skin Cancer Facts.” http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/sunanduvexposure/skin-cancer-facts
3 Skin Cancer Foundation, “Understanding UVA and UVB.” http://www.skincancer.org/prevention/uva-and-uvb/understanding-uva-and-uvb
4 World Health Organization, “UV Radiation.” http://www.who.int/uv/faq/whatisuv/en/index2.html
5 American Cancer Society, “What Should I Look For.” http://www.cancer.org/cancer/skincancer-melanoma/moreinformation/skincancerpreventionandearlydetection/skin-cancer-prevention-and-early-detection-what-to-look-for