Seeking Shade

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May is Melanoma and Skin Cancer Awareness Month

What you need to know and what can you do to help!

Story by Cheri Woodsmall

Summer is here and that means more time spent outdoors in the sun. But amidst the barbeques, picnics and warm weather sports, how many will be considering the risks posed by venturing out without the proper sun protection?

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, over 5 million skin  cancer cases are diagnosed in the United States each year, making it the most common cancer in the United States. Fortunately, skin cancer is also one of the most preventable forms of cancer. About 90% of nonmelanoma skin cancers and 85% of melanoma cases are associated with exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun. By raising awareness of the dangers of unprotected exposure and encouraging sun-safe habits, we can change behaviors and save lives.

The number of cases of the more frequent skin cancers, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, has been increasing for many years. According to one estimate, about 3.5 million cases of them are diagnosed annually (80% are basal cell).

Most of these three types of skin cancer are caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light primarily from the sun. However, only a little over half of American adults use sun-protection measures.

The good news is that if diagnosed and treated early, skin cancer can often be cured. But if the disease can progress, it can result in disfigurement and possibly death.


A FEW QUICK FAQ’S 

Q : What should people know about protecting themselves against skin cancer?

A : Skin cancer is usually the result of sun exposure and blistering sunburns that occur in childhood and also cumulative sun exposure. The most important thing we can do is to protect our children from early sun exposure, although it’s never too late to reduce your own risk for skin cancer. Eliminating ongoing sun damage is very important.

The good news is that most people with skin cancer are going to be fine. The majority of skin cancers are either basal cell or squamous cell carcinomas. Only 4% of all skin cancers are melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer.

Q : Besides early sun exposure, what are some other risk factors for skin cancer?

A : Skin type has a lot to do with it. Fair skin, light hair, and light eyes are risk factors for melanoma. Sun exposure is by far the most common risk factor. The use of tanning salons is also a risk factor. Self-tanning lotions do not pose a risk.

Q : What are the symptoms of skin cancer, and what should people look for?

A : ABCDE is the key. This applies to new or changing moles. A is for asymmetry; B is for irregular borders; C is for color variation; D is for a diameter greater than 6 millimeters (about the size of a pencil eraser); and E is for evolution, or any change in a mole, including itching or bleeding. Any new lesion that bleeds or scabs and does not go away over four weeks should be brought to your physician’s attention.

Q : How often should people do self-body checks for changing moles, and how often should they get clinical checkups?

A : People should be aware of their skin and look for any changing moles on a daily basis. People who don’t have any history of skin cancer should have a complete skin examination annually by a physician. Those with a history of skin cancer, especially melanoma, should be evaluated at least twice a year by a dermatologist and do skin self-checks monthly. It’s a lifetime of follow-up evaluations with your doctor, not just because of possible melanoma recurrence, but because of the possibility of other skin cancers as well.

Q : How can people protect themselves against the UVA and UVB rays of the sun?

A : Plan your outdoor activities before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF of 30 or higher, and apply over all exposed skin about ten minutes before going out, and reapply every two hours, or sooner if swimming.

There is also clothing that now has UV protection in them, including bathing suits for kids. And be sure to wear a hat to protect the scalp and ears. Sun-exposed areas such as the nose and ears are very common spots where skin cancer can develop.

Q : How is skin cancer treated?

A : If you have a lesion that you’re worried about, the first step is to see your dermatologist, who will remove it if it looks suspicious. Most of the basal and squamous cell cancers are handled with local removal by a dermatologist or plastic surgeon, and that’s all the treatment needed.


SHARE YOUR STORY

Have you been affected by skin cancer or know someone one who has? During the month of May, please share your story on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and encourage your loved ones to share it too. Please include the hashtag #MySkinCancer Journey in your post and create a powerful community of healthy skin champions.

Sources: Skin Cancer Foundation, Kansas City Dermatology

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