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By Ackerman Cancer Center

on 07/11/2017

Skin Cancer Prevention & Protection this Summer

You can count on summer to bring two things: sunny skies and skin cancer warnings. We understand the message can become a bit repetitive, but we are passionate about cancer prevention. So, with that in mind, we have compiled a guide to best practices for protecting your skin. Please note that these tips should be followed all year round, not just during the summer months.

Skin Cancer
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the US, accounting for nearly half of all cancer cases. Skin cancer types include:

  • Non-melanoma cancers don’t typically spread and are easier to treat
    • Basal cell 
    • Squamous cell
  • Melanoma cancers are highly aggressive cancers that can spread

Moles & Melanoma
Common moles are simply a collection of melanocyte, pigment cells that give skin its color. Melanoma is a cancer that develops in the melanocytes. Rarely, atypical (dysplastic) moles turn into melanoma. Identifying signs of melanoma is as easy as ABCDE:

  • Asymmetrical moles
  • Borders that are ragged, notched or irregular
  • Color that is mixed or not uniform
  • Diameter greater than 6MM, or moles that change in size
  • Evolving mole shape, color or size  

Common signs of melanoma include unusual new moles or changes in existing moles. More moles equal higher risk. If you have over 50 moles, you are at greater risk for melanoma. Other factors that raise your risk include:

  • Atypical moles
  • Accumulative effects of long-term sun exposure
  • Tanning 
  • Severe sunburn with blistering (on average, more than 5 sunburns can double cancer risk)
  • Fair skin
  • Family or personal history of melanoma
  • Medications or medical conditions that affect the immune system or increase sun sensitivity

Prevent & Protect
Keeping your skin healthy and cancer-free means understanding how the sun affects skin and how to reduce sun damage. The sun emits three types of ultraviolet rays, classified by wavelength:

  • UVC – Short length, damaging waves that never escape the ozone to reach earth
  • UVB – Able to penetrate the skin’s top layer causing most sunburns and skin cancers
  • UVA – Responsible for 95 percent of radiation reaching the earth’s surface. UVA rays are also used in tanning beds. They penetrate deeply into the skin causing premature aging, wrinkles, skin damage and cancer

Protect your skin from UV rays by:

  • Avoiding the sun between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm
  • Skipping the tanning
  • Covering up. Also consider sun protective clothing (Ultraviolet Protective Factor rated clothing that reflects or absorbs UV rays)
  • Applying daily sunscreen year round

Choosing Sunscreen

Opt for mineral sunscreen instead of chemical preparations. Mineral products provide a barrier to block harmful ultra violet rays, while chemical sunscreens react to sunlight causing a release of harmful free radicals. No sunscreen successfully blocks all UV rays, but the following are tips on boosting protection:

  • Choose sunscreen with a high sun protective factor (SPF). The higher the number, the more UV rays it blocks. Never go below SPF 30
  • Look for broad spectrum products that block both UVA and UVB rays
  • Opt for lotion over spray, which can be inhaled
  • Apply sunscreen every 2 hours and immediately after swimming or heavy perspiration
  • Use 30 ounces – one shot glass full – to cover an adult body
  • Check expiration dates or write the purchase date on the bottle. Most sunscreens have a shelf life of three years

Remain Vigilant
Take time each month to do a personal skin check so you recognize any changes in moles right away. In addition, be sure to schedule an annual head-to-toe skin examination with your dermatologist. 

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