Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention
Chunying GUO, Dermatologist
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, and a significant killer worldwide. Despite warnings about the harmful effects of the sun, more than 1 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer occur each year. The deadliest form of skin cancer, melanoma, is strongly associated with excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV), which can come from both sunlight and tanning beds.
Prevention Starts Early
To prevent sun damage, it is important to protect skin from an early age. Parents in particular should pay special attention to protecting their children from the sun’s harmful rays. Evidence suggests that excessive sun exposure during childhood increases the risk of getting skin cancer later in life. Despite this, tanning still remains common among adolescents hailing from western countries. Most teens in these cultures still view a tan as not only a fashionable look, but also a sign of good health. To change this mindset, it is important that we educate children and adolescents about the dangers of sun exposure and the importance of sun protection.
Protect Yourself from the Sun
It only takes one blistering sunburn to double your chances of getting skin cancer, or worse, melanoma later on in life. Even if you are only a little pink after a day out in the sun, some damage has been done and you are at a higher risk of developing skin cancer. For this reason, if you spend time in the sun, it is important to take protective measures.
Your best defense is to always wear sunscreen when out in the sun. Sunscreen should be applied at least 20 minutes before you go outside and then re-applied after swimming, rubbing or toweling off. You should then reapply every 2 hours.
SPF (or Sun Protection Factor) is a measure of a sunscreen’s ability to protect the skin from UV radiation. The higher the SPF, the less UV radiation will reach your skin. SPF is calculated by comparing the amount of time it takes to produce the first sign of redness on unprotected skin versus the time taken to produce redness on skin that has been protected. For example, if your unprotected skin reddens in 10 minutes then an SPF 30 sunscreen will give you 300 minutes of protection, however the time it takes your skin to show the first signs of reddening may vary.
While sunscreen is important it is also just as important to wear a hat and protective clothing while out in the sun. Also try to avoid direct sun exposure in the middle of the day when the sun’s rays are the strongest, and say no to solariums. These non-medical tanning beds or booths that emit ultraviolet light for the purpose of creating cosmetically darkened skin can be dangerous. With the potential to deliver up to five times more UV radiation than the midday summer sun, avoiding solariums all together will limit your risk of skin cancer and prevent premature ageing.
Check Your Skin Each Month
In addition to protecting your skin from sun exposure, it is also important to spend time each month checking your skin for signs of skin cancer. Through regular checking, you will get to know your skin and can then notice any changes. In particular look for sores that do not heal, small lumps that are red or pale in color, and new spots, freckles or moles that change in shape and color. Pay particular attention to areas of your body that are usually most exposed to the sun, such as your arms, legs, face, neck, back, shoulders, and the back of your hands.
If you notice anything new or unusual on your skin, see your doctor immediately. Early detection in addition to protecting your skin is crucial to preventing skin cancer.