Summer Sun and Skin Cancer

With the 4th of July just around the corner, many of us are anticipating the fun of picnics, fireworks, boating and other outdoor activities.

I know I am.

There’s no doubt that this is the time of year when everyone should take precautions on the water and on the road. But it’s also time to be extra vigilant when it comes to protecting the biggest organ in – or rather on – our bodies – our skin.

The American Cancer Society reports that more than one million Americans are diagnosed each year with skin cancer, and of that number, around 65,000 will develop the deadliest form of skin cancer, malignant melanoma.

That’s bad news, and for those of us of a “certain age,” it’s especially troubling because many of us experienced numerous sunburns during our childhoods that make us more susceptible to developing skin cancers of all types, and particularly melanoma.

Fortunately, most parents these days have been made aware of the dangers of repeated sunburns for children and are able to take advantage of all the SPF products that are available in the marketplace today.

Still, the message that we should be hyper-vigilant with our children and ourselves bears repeating.

The ACS gives parents memorable advice when it comes to protecting their children’s skin: “Slip! Slop! Slap!” Basically, the idea is to remind children when they play out in the sun to “slip” on a shirt, “slop” on sunscreen, and “slap” on a hat.

Protection, including wearing protective clothing when in the sun, using a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher, wearing a hat and sunglasses, and avoiding the midday sun are useful tips.

The ACS also recommends that having an extra bottle of sunscreen in the car is a smart move.

In addition to protecting our skin from excessive sun damage, the ACS recommends that we all get into the habit of checking our skin regularly for changes that might indicate the emergence of skin cancers.

While melanomas are the most deadly, they’re also fairly easy to spot if you know what to look for.

Spotting a possible melanoma can be as easy as remembering our “ABCDs.” The “A” stands for asymmetry as malignant melanomas are often asymmetrical in shape; “B” is for borders, as most have uneven or irregular borders; “C” is for color because many melanomas contain multiple hues, such as black, brown, blue, and tan; and “D” stands for diameter, referring to moles that are larger than a pencil eraser in diameter.

There are other warning signs as well, according to the ACS, including having a sore that doesn’t heal; the spread of pigment from the border to nearby skin; a change in skin sensation such as itchiness, tenderness, or pain; a change in the surface of a mole such as bleeding or oozing; and a mole that looks markedly different from other moles on your skin.

If discovered early, melanomas are relatively easy to cure and surgery is frequently the only treatment needed. Once a melanoma has spread to internal organs, however, it becomes more challenging to contain and usually requires additional treatments which may include chemotherapy.

Many people wonder if they’re at risk for developing skin cancers. While no one is risk free, the risks are higher for those who have fair skin, those who have relatives (especially first-degree relatives such as a parent or a child) who have developed skin cancer, those who have numerous moles, and those who have spent extensive time in the sun.

The best advice, says the ACS, is to wear sunscreen daily (SPF 15 or higher), wear protective clothing, avoid overexposure between 10 am and 4 pm during the summer months, and perform monthly skin self-exams, scheduling doctor’s appointments when changes to the skin are noticed.

By following this advice, we should all be able to enjoy the sun while keeping our skin protected at the same time. Enjoy the 4th!

In Good Health,

Greg Dent