Tips to help prevent skin cancer

By Michael Forrest, MD;

More than 7,000 Californians will be diagnosed with melanoma this year, according to the American Cancer Society. The following are life-saving tips to help prevent this and other skin cancers, the most common form of cancer in the United States.

Melanoma, although the most severe skin cancer, can have a 97% survival rate if caught early. It’s tempting to soak up the sun as it warms, but please, protect your skin first.

There are three items necessary to protect skin from damaging UV rays and thus limit your skin cancer risk. First, sunscreen must be applied correctly and in adequate quantity. The rule for sunblock is 2-30. It takes about two tablespoons of sunblock to cover your entire body and should be applied 30 minutes before going outside. This gives the skin enough time to absorb the lotion and become effective at blocking UV rays. It should also be reapplied every few hours, after drying off, or after excessive sweating.

Second, hats, sun-protective clothing, and sunglasses are important items to help block the sun. Wide brimmed hats can help shield the nose, ears, shoulders and scalp from burns. It takes only one bad sunburn in childhood to double your chances of developing melanoma later in life. So, protect your children and grandchildren with these same items.  Also important is to avoid mid-day sun (10am to 4pm), sun bathing, and tanning salons.

The last item in the arsenal against melanoma is a mirror. 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 patches of red, white or blue.
D is for DIAMETER: Benign moles are about the size of a pencil eraser, 1/4 inch. Anything larger is worrisome.
E is for ELEVATED: Having a spot above skin level is another warning sign.

You don’t have to avoid the sun altogether, but protect yourself with your own arsenal against skin cancer this summer. Taking these precautions will lessen your risk for all types of skin cancer, including melanoma.

Dr. Michael Forrest is a Radiation Oncologist with Epic Care, a group of experts in the diagnosis and comprehensive treatment of cancer and blood disorders. (925) 452-1852