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Summer Skincare: Preventing Skin Cancer

05-12-2020

Summer is right around the corner, and with it comes warmer, longer days and weather that makes you want to get outdoors. But before lounging on your deck with a cold beverage or launching into a full day of yardwork under the sun, make sure you’re taking the proper precautions to protect the skin you’re in.

Overexposing yourself to the sun can cause several problems—from skin cancer to eye complications, age spots, and wrinkles. Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers; each year in the U.S., more than 5.4 million cases of nonmelanoma skin cancer are treated in more than 3.3 million people. Between 40 and 50 percent of Americans who live to age 65 will develop nonmelanoma skin cancer at least once.

Skin Cancer Facts

  • Basal cell skin cancer is themost common form of skin cancer, with 4.3 million cases diagnosed per year. It’s slow-growing, and most cases are caused by cumulative sun exposure and sunburns. It develops in the deepest layer of the epidermis (outer layer of the skin) in the basal cells, and it appears as dark pink patches, shiny growths, or growths with ulceration. It rarely spreads to other parts of the body, but it can destroy the surrounding tissue and be disfiguring.
  • Squamous cell skin cancer is the second most common type of skin cancer, with 1 million diagnosed cases each year. Primarily caused by UV radiation and occurring in the squamous cells of the epidermis, squamous cell skin cancer presents itself as red scaly patches, open sores, warty growths, or dark pink growths with a central depression. In rare cases, it can spread to other organs and results in approximately 15,000 deaths each year. Organ transplant patients are 100 times more likely to develop this type of skin cancer than the general population; however, sunscreen can reduce the risk of this disease by 40 percent.
  • Melanoma is the third most common type of cancer for women under 49, and men under 49 have a higher probability of developing melanoma than any other cancer.Your risk for melanoma doubles if you have had more than five sunburns. Only 30 percent of melanomas arise in an existing mole; the majority develop in normal skin.
  • Actinic Keratosis, which is considered precancerous but can develop into squamous cell skin cancer, can form as a pink scaly growth or a subtle patch that forms over skin that has been chronically exposed to the sun.
  • Merkel cell carcinoma is a rare, aggressive type of skin cancer with a high risk of recurrence and spreading. This type of cancer often arises on sun-exposed skin in those over age 50.

When Should I See My Doctor?

Monthly skin self-exams are essential to knowing your skin and noticing if anything has changed. Examine from your scalp to the soles of your feet; learning your moles, blemishes, and freckles will help you keep track of your skin’s changes over time and know if you should be concerned.

If you notice any problem areas or rapid changes, consult your doctor. The key warning sign of melanoma is a new spot or a spot that’s changed in size, shape, or color.

Follow the ABCDE rule to help you determine when to make the call:

  • A is for Asymmetry: Look out for one half of a mole or birthmark that doesn’t match the other.
  • B is for Border: Irregular, blurred, ragged, or notched edges can be a cause for concern.
  • C is for Color: If the color isn’t the same all over, or includes shades of brown or black or patches of pink, red, white, or blue, tell your doctor immediately.
  • D is for Diameter: If the spot is larger than 6 millimeters across (about ¼-inch the size of a pencil eraser), it could be melanoma. However, melanomas can be smaller than this.
  • E is for Evolving: The mole is changing in size, color, or shape.

Not all melanomas fit the ABCDE rule, so it’s important to tell your doctor about any changes in your skin. Other warning signs of skin cancer can include:

  • A sore that doesn’t heal
  • The spread of pigment from the border of the spot into the surrounding skin
  • Redness or swelling beyond the border of the mole
  • Change in sensation (itchiness, tenderness, or pain)
  • Change in the mole surface

How to Love Your Skin This Summer (and Prevent Skin Cancer)

Skin cancer is a serious disease, but you don’t have to stay indoors all summer. The proper precautions can go a long way in preventing sunburn, precancerous growths, and ultimately, skin cancer.

Don’t Forget Sunscreen. Your mother was right—you need to slather on sunscreen before spending the day outdoors. This is the number one preventative measure for sun protection. Each morning, apply approximately one ounce of sunscreen to your entire body. Aim for an SPF of 15 or higher for normal sun exposure, but if you plan to be outside all day, reapply every two hours. Check out this article for more tips on choosing the right sunscreen for you.

Stay in the Shade. When possible, hang out under an umbrella or tent, beneath a tree, under a porch or awning, or any other shady spot. This is especially important during peak hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun’s rays are the strongest. Even when it’s cloudy, the sun can still damage your skin—so take precautions even on overcast days. If you’re doing yardwork and can’t escape the sun, make sure to wear sunscreen, sunglasses, and a wide-brimmed hat if possible.

Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate. Drinking water frequently helps your body sweat, cool down, and avoid dehydration, so make sure you drink plenty of water—that is, at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water, and more if you’re outside for an extended period of time.

Exfoliate and Moisturize. Scrubbing away dead skin as often as possible helps your skin remain healthy and strong, while preventing dryness and congestion. Opt for natural exfoliators, like sugar-, coffee-, or oatmeal- based products, and apply an FDA-approved moisturizer immediately afterwards. Consider using a moisturizing sunscreen if you have especially dry skin.

Don’t Forget the Lips. Did you know the lips are a common site for skin cancer? Lip balm isn’t just for moisture, it can help protect your lips from harmful rays. Applying SPF 15 lip balm every two hours will help fully protect your lips, but choose SPF 30 or higher if you have a history of skin cancer. Don’t use high-shine lip gloss, Vaseline, or baby oil when you’re in the sun.

Change Up Your Summer Fashion. Your head and ears are vulnerable to the sun, so wear a hat (and don’t forget to apply sunscreen to your ears, face, and neck!). Cover your eyes with sunglasses—the bigger and darker, the better. Take extra precautions when you’re near a reflective surface like water or sand.

Ditch the Tan. Using a tanning bed before age 35 increases your risk of melanoma by 75 percent. Stay away from tanning beds and sunlamps, but if you still want that summer glow, consider sunless tanning products like lotions, gels, and spray foams. Make sure to carefully read the labels and avoid products not approved by the FDA.

Help your Skin Heal. Properly caring for a sunburn is important for your comfort and the healing process—which can take several days. Take an over-the-counter pain reliever if the pain or swelling is severe enough. A cold bath or clean damp towel can also help your skin cool down. Apply moisturizer frequently and drink lots of water. Perhaps most importantly, don’t pick or peel your sunburn!

Practice Skin Safety for the Entire Family. Make sure your kids wear sunscreen while playing outside, as well as proper clothing, sunglasses, and hats.

Save Your Skin

If you’re experiencing any of the signs or symptoms mentioned in the previous section of this article, it’s important to schedule an appointment with your primary care provider when possible. Frederick Health has a wealth of resources on skin cancer symptoms as well as screening and treatment—check out our resources here.