Even though you may not spend time appreciating your skin, it is the largest organ of your body and helps protect you in a number of different ways. It acts as a temperature control, makes vitamin D and protects you from injury and infection. Unfortunately, it can also get damaged, especially by excessive sun exposure and time in tanning beds. The American Cancer Society predicts that 73,000 melanoma cases will be diagnosed this year, and it will account for approximately 10,000 deaths. The good news is there are steps you can take to decrease your risk of developing melanoma, as well as to identify skin cancer in earlier, more treatable stages.
Risk factors for melanoma include a personal or family history of skin cancer, multiple existing moles, those who have fair skin/freckles and burn before they tan, those who spend a significant time outside or in sunny climates with exposure to UVA/UVB rays and those with a history of sunburns, especially in childhood. It is also important to remember that tanning beds are a source of harmful UV rays.
The ACS promotes the “Slip! Slop! Slap! And Wrap!” reminder for everyone to think about before UV exposure. The idea is that it is important to slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen, slap on a hat and wrap on sunglasses. Hats and clothing serve as excellent barriers to UV rays. Additionally, you can check in on the UV index prediction where you plan to enjoy some time outdoors. Visit epa.gov/sunwise/uv-index for up-to-date information.
Also, be informed about the sunscreen you use. The sun protection factor is an indicator of UVB protection. Be sure to apply 30 or higher SPF sunscreen liberally and reapply often. Encourage your family members, and especially children, to take just a few moments to reapply sunscreen if prolonged sun exposure is expected. Also, invest in some new bottles of sunscreen and throw out the old bottles that have been sitting at the back of your shelf.
Do not hesitate to talk with your doctor about screening for skin cancer, especially if you have risk factors for skin cancer including melanoma. The ABCDE rule helps distinguish moles that need evaluation immediately.
D: Diameter greater than 6 millimeters (the size of a pencil eraser).
Not all moles follow the textbook, however. If you notice something that seems concerning, such as a sore that just will not heal, make an appointment right away to get it checked out by a dermatologist as soon as possible. It is a great time of year to enjoy so many of the tremendous outdoor resources that are just outside our front door. Just remember a few simple steps that can help you and your loved ones prevent skin cancer.
Kristin Anderson is the employee health and post-acute care services medical director at Community Medical Center.