By K. Kenneth Chao, MD
Each year, over 2 million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer (melanoma, basal cell, or squamous cell), according to the American Cancer Society. Almost all cases are attributed to unsafe sun exposure habits. Just one burn can increase the risk of developing skin cancer. While our Board Certified Oncologists at Epic Care, Partners in Cancer Care, are experts in the treatment of skin cancers, we are strong advocates in cancer prevention including simple sun safety measures, no matter what season it is. Knowing the risks and following our tips can help prevent the most common form of cancer in the United States.
Arm Yourself with Sunscreen
Sunscreen may be the most valuable tool in preventing skin cancer. In accordance with the American Cancer Society, we suggest at least SPF 30 for long-term sun exposure and at least SPF 15 for day-to-day use. The new FDA guidelines require “broad-spectrum sunscreens” that combine UVB and UVA-absorbing chemicals and/or physical blockers, and thus give the widest range of protection. Check the label to make sure you are saving your skin from BOTH of the sun’s damaging rays.
How much to put on?
Sunscreen is only effective if used properly. Remember Epic Care’s rule for sunblock: 2-30. It takes about two tablespoons of sunblock to cover the entire body and should be applied 30 minutes before actually going outside. This gives the skin enough time to absorb the lotion and become effective in blocking the UV rays. Don’t forget to reapply every few hours, after drying off, or after excessive sweating. If all possible, we also suggest avoiding the sun from 10 a.m.–4 p.m., sun bathing, and tanning salons. There simply is no safe tan. UVA rays are just as carcinogenic as UVB rays and should be avoided to prevent any damage.
Topping off the Protection
Hats, sun-protective clothing, and sunglasses are other important items we recommend to help block the sun. Wide brimmed hats can help shield the nose, ears, shoulders and scalp from burns. It only takes one bad sunburn in childhood to double your chances of developing melanoma later in life, according to the ACS. Remember to pack these items for young children as well.
The Mirror Never Lies
It’s crucial to know every mole and freckle on your body. Any change can signify a problem and should be checked by a doctor immediately. Self-exams are recommended more frequently for those who have fair skin, have atypical moles and/or freckles, or have a history of severe burns.
When examining moles, remember A-B-C-D-E:
A is for ASYMMETRY: One half of a mole or birthmark does not match the other.
B is for BORDER: Normal spots have smooth edges. Cancerous spots may have irregular, ragged, notched or blurred edges.
C is for COLOR: The color is not the same throughout and may include shades of brown or black or sometimes with patches of red, white or blue.
D is for DIAMETER: Benign moles are about the size of a pencil eraser–about 1/4 inch. Anything larger is worrisome.
E is for ELEVATED: Having a spot above skin level is another warning sign.
Dr. Chao is a board certified radiation oncologist and an expert in advanced noninvasive skin cancer treatments using electronic brachytherapy, High-dose rate brachytherapy, and beam radiotherapy, with Epic Care. www.epic-care.com.