Most of us are still not using sunscreen
A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published in the May issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that only 14% of men and 30% of women regularly use sunscreen on both their faces and other exposed skin.
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Exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVA and UVB) from the sun is a major risk factor for skin cancer. And because sun exposure is cumulative over your lifetime, it is even more important that we protect our skin on a regular basis. While the non-melanoma skin cancers, basal cell and squamous cell, are relatively easy to treat and rarely fatal, this is not the case for melanoma.
Melanoma is a cancer of the melanocytes in our skin, the cells that give our skin its color. Because of this, melanoma looks like a mole. According to the American Cancer Society, it accounts for about 2% of all skin cases, but the large majority of skin cancer deaths. In 2015 it is estimated that more than 70,000 people will be diagnosed with melanoma and 10,000 people will die of the disease.
All of us should regularly check our bodies, front and back, to become familiar with the moles we have so we know if any of them change or if a new one develops.
The early signs of melanoma are important to know, especially if you are among the 86% of men and 70% of women who do not use sunscreen on a regular basis.
These are the “ABCD’s” of melanoma:
A - Asymmetrical mole, that is - the shape of the mole is irregular. Non-cancerous mole are usually symmetrical.
B – Borders or edges of the mole are irregular, jagged looking, they aren’t smooth. Non-cancerous moles have smooth borders.
C – Coloration is different throughout the mole. Some may have different shades of the same color, i.e. shades of brown or tan or there may be areas of black, blue, brown, tan, etc.) Non-cancerous moles are usually one color throughout.
D – Diameter is greater than that of a pencil eraser (6mm). Non-cancerous moles are smaller than this.
If you notice a mole has changed in size, shape, color, has cracked, is itchy, bleeding or just doesn’t ‘look right’ the faster you have it checked by a dermatologist, the better. Early detection of melanoma can save your life.
In addition to sun exposure, the following also increase your risk of skin cancer:
Having naturally light hair (blonde, red) light eyes (blue, gray or hazel), fair skin and freckles.
Using tanning booths and tanning lamps, especially before the age of 30.
Tanning in general. Tanning is the body’s way of protecting itself from the sun’s radiation. Tanned skin is damaged skin.
Blistering sunburns, even one, especially during childhood.
Lifetime sun exposure. The more exposure, the greater the risk.
Family history. Having two or more close relatives (father, mother, siblings, child) with melanoma increases risk.
Certain medications. Medications that suppress the immune system (for example people who’ve had an organ transplant) certain antibiotics (tetracycline, doxycycline, Cipro) some heart medications, diuretics ( water pills), etc. Check with your pharmacist to find out if a medication you take increases your sensitivity to the sun.
To reduce your risk of skin cancer:
Use a broad spectrum (UVA and UVB protections) water proof sunscreen that has an SPF of 30 or more.
Check to make sure the sunscreen isn’t expired.
- Apply a thick layer of sunscreen (about the amount you can hold in the palm of your hand) to all exposed skin at least 15 minutes before going in the sun.
- Reapply sunscreen every two hours, immediately after swimming or heavy sweating.
- Use sunscreen even if it’s cloudy (clouds don’t block ultra violet radiation) and in the winter.
- Limit or eliminated your use of tanning booths.
- Know your family history.
- Have annual skin check-ups by a board certified dermatologist.
Keep in mind that tanned skin is not healthy – it’s damaged!
For pictures of the ABCD’s above:
For more information about cancer:
Joanna Hayden, PhD, CHES is the principal of Associates for Health Education and Behavior, LLC, in Sparta, a practice focused on improving health through education. Her office offers individual and group health education, and individual health behavior change guidance. For more information please see www.associatesforhealth.com To contact Dr. Hayden, email her firstname.lastname@example.org
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