Skin Cancer Avoidance
For people who have any kind of sun exposure, the skin cancer foundation recommends that you have a head to toe self examination every month. However for many people, the main reminder they have to check for skin cancer is the start of summer as they squeeze into their swimsuits again and take a look at their beach body!
Summer officially starts June 21 in the United States and in sunny climates people are already hitting the beach and increasing their exposure to the sun. Now is a great time to remind yourself about the risks of prolonged exposure to the sun and also to perform that skin cancer self examination or contact a doctor to have any suspicious spots examined.
In the United States, 3.5 million people are diagnosed with skin cancer every year, and many of these cases could have been prevented by taking greater precautions in the sun. For older people and baby boomers who had many years of intense sun exposure when they were younger, they need to be very vigilant now about the condition of various moles and freckles on their body. You should be monitoring the color, shape and size of those spots to detect skin cancer as early as possible.
The aggressive form of skin cancer, melanoma, can spread very quickly and metastasize to other parts of the body including the brain, bones, liver and lungs. This form of skin cancer can metastasize and kill very quickly. Careful monitoring of your skin is essential for everybody, but it’s particularly necessary if you have had regular sun exposure or a lot of exposure when you were young.
Specialists suggest that a lot of sun damage takes places under the age of 18 and that is when the risk for cumulative damage is the greatest. So even if you have a small amount of exposure as an adult, if you had sun exposure as a child you need to be very vigilant about the condition of your skin.
Research tells us that if you had sunburns as a child, your risk of getting skin cancer is doubled later in life.
Signs to look for
During every self examination you need to make a note of the each freckle, bump, mole, birthmark, sore and scab on your body. This is close to do from memory so it is recommended that you use a body map to draw out the location of these blemishes as you self examine.
You can download a skin cancer body map from the Skin Cancer Foundation. You should record the color, size, texture, opacity, asymmetry and location of each spot and then compare it to subsequent inspections.
In addition, you should also photograph yourself every month so you have an accurate image of potential skin cancers and don’t have to rely on your memory. By using photographs in conjunction with a skin cancer body map you should have a good comprehension of the state of your skin and spot changes relatively quickly. Because of the aggressiveness of Melanoma, it is essential that you spot it very quickly.
You should also be on the lookout for pain, itching or bleeding from spots on your skin, which are signs of a developing skin cancer.
Avoiding Skin Cancer
Humans love the sun, it’s a glorious feeling standing in the sun after a swim and it provides an important role in maintaining a healthy body by providing us with vitamin D.
However too much of a good thing is dangerous and sun damage is cumulative. So how can you enjoy the sun safely? Here are some quick tips..
Avoid prolonged exposure, especially between 10am-4pm
Avoid staying in the sun for too long, particularly between the hours of 10am and 4pm when the sun is it’s hottest. Go for a swim in the afternoon or morning and avoid spending many hours in the sun during these times without appropriate protection.
Don’t get burnt!
Simply put, the more damage that occurs to your skin the higher the risk of skin cancer. Don’t let you skin burn! Be aware of how much time you have spent in the sun and never let your skin get to this point. Not only are you increasing skin cancer risk when you burn but you are speeding up aging as UV does horrific damage to your skin.
Don’t go out of your way to get a tan and don’t use tanning beds. UV light is damaging your skin and while a tan might help you look good in the short term, in the long term the additional UV exposure is a cancer risk and will age you prematurely. You can always get a fake tan to achieve the look you are going for and won’t harm yourself doing it.
Use the appropriate protection
Cover up from the sun and use hats, clothes, sunglasses and sunscreen. This is especially necessary for people who are working in the sun all day – cover your skin as much as possible.
Densely woven fabrics provide the best protection and you can purchase specially made UV protection clothing which blocks most of the UV. That kind of clothing is essential for young children as minimizing their sunburn risk and limiting sun exposure helps avoid skin cancer in later years. Bright and dark colored clothing will also block more UV than white clothing, so consider your attire.
A good pair of sunglasses will also help prevent exposure and reduce the risk of cataracts and melanoma of the eye.
It has been drilled into our heads for many years now, but it is always worth remembering – a high SPF sunscreen will protect you against Ultraviolet B rays. However be aware that sunscreen is not always complete protection as many cannot protect against long wave Ultraviolet A rays which are the main cause of melanoma and sun induced skin aging. Get a broad spectrum sunscreen that protects against UVA as well as UVB.
You have to also use the sunscreen appropriately, covering your entire body, applying it before going into the sun and reapplying it when necessary. Even with sunscreen on you should avoid prolonged sun exposure.
It is also important to realize that sunscreens may not always be effective and some contain their own risks.
Be aware the sun is always present!
Even when it looks overcast or the weather is cold, be aware the sun is still present and UV rays are present. Skincancer.org recommends that you use sunscreen every day when you are outdoors, regardless of the weather. On an overcast day you can still obtain 70% as much UV as you would with the sun out.
Be aware that your environment can change the UV risk. If you are by the water, or on the snow, or on the sand, the level of UV is increased as it is reflected back from the environment with great intensity. UV is higher at high altitudes, so if you are a skier, be aware of the greater risk.
Get regular checkups and perform monthly self examinations
Besides performing a monthly self examination, you should also get your physician to take a look at your skin and look for any suspicious marks.
Take care of yourself and be sun smart! Skin cancer can be avoided or detected early enough to save your life if you are vigilant, so look after yourself and your family.