Summer skin health: Skin cancer awareness
Now that the weather is warming up and the sun has finally come out of hibernation, people are showing a lot more skin. We’ve all been wearing layers for far too long, but celebrating summer shouldn’t mean risking your health. May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month and according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, which means we need to do more to protect ourselves from harmful UV rays. You can still worship the sun; just make sure you’re not doing it sans sunscreen.
In 2007 alone, more than 58,000 people were diagnosed with melanomas of the skin and 8,000 cases proved to be fatal. Those statistics sound depressing, but we can turn them around. According to Dr. Ariel Ostad, a New York City dermatologist, there are three key actions that can help make sun exposure safer: prevent, detect and treat skin cancer as early as possible. He adds that education is another key piece of the prevention puzzle, as well as acceptance, since many patients avoid having their skin screened or treated due to fear or embarrassment. Seriously, folks, health should trump embarrassment – every time.
Sun protection decoded
With so many sun protection options available, it can be overwhelming to make a choice. Dr. Ostad explains there are several important ingredients you should look for when shopping for sunscreen to help make the process less confusing.
Know Your SPF
SPF matters and it's important to use at least SPF 30, regardless of your skin type or color, Dr. Ostad says, adding that sunscreens should be applied to exposed areas 15 to 30 minutes before going outdoors. It's also important to pay special attention to your face, ears, hands and arms, which can often be forgotten or not properly covered -- no one wants a burnt, crispy nose! Use one ounce (about the amount in a shot glass) to adequately cover your body, and if you jump in the pool or get sweaty, remember to reapply.
Skin Cancer: What to look for
Dr. Ostad recommends people have a thorough skin exam every year to detect and prevent the three major types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and malignant melanoma. Some melanomas can occur in areas that are covered by hair or clothing, making them difficult to self-examine. You can also look at your own skin spots regularly and be very attentive to any changes or growth, he says, adding that "a melanoma can be effectively treated if detected early."
Moles and melanoma
Most people have some skin marks, such as freckles, moles and birthmarks. Most you've probably had all your life, but some of these marks may be the signs of skin cancer. Warning signs of melanoma include:
What else to look for
Dr. Ostad notes that you should also watch for the following possible changes in moles. Skin cancers are usually painless so it's important to know what signs to look for.
- New spots or existing skin moles that start to grow quickly.
- Color that spreads from the borders of the mole into the surrounding skin area.
- Moles that are usually flat that begin to grow vertically.
- Inflammation on the surrounding area of a new skin formation.
- Changes in the surface of a mole including erosion, oozing, scaliness and even bleeding.