As summer begins, it can be tempting to spend more time out in the sun. Being exposed to sunlight is actually necessary for your body to produce the vitamin D it needs. However, being in the sun without protection or regular screening can result in skin cancer, the most common form of cancer in the United States, says Tawnya Bowles, MD, a cancer surgeon at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray.
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is the main cause of skin cancer. UV radiation can also come from tanning booths or sunlamps. The most dangerous kind of skin cancer is called melanoma.
The good news? Skin cancer can almost always be cured when it’s found and treated early.
What is skin cancer?
Skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells. It occurs when unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells (most often caused by ultraviolet radiation from sunshine or tanning beds) triggers mutations, or genetic defects, that lead the skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors.
Here are some facts to know about skin cancer:
- Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. More than 3.5 million skin cancers in over two million people are diagnosed annually.
- Each year there are more new cases of skin cancer than the combined incidence of cancers of the breast, prostate, lung and colon.
- Over the past three decades, more people have had skin cancer than all other cancers combined.
- One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime.
The best way to prevent skin cancer is to protect your skin from sun damage. With summer upon us, it’s especially important to be vigilant about sun protection. A sunburn is a clear sign that the DNA in your skin cells has been damaged by too much UV radiation.
Unfortunately, many people experience the most sun damage during childhood. You should protect yourself, and your children, to avoid any additional harm to your skin.
Here are nine things you can do to reduce your risk of developing skin cancer, says Dr. Bowles. The earlier you start applying these principles, the better off you and your family will be, she say.
- Seek the shade, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM
- Avoid getting a sun burn
- Avoid tanning and UV tanning booths
- Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses
- Use an SPF 30, broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen, and use water-resistant sunscreen when needed
- Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating
- Keep newborns out of the sun – Sunscreens should be used on babies over the age of six months
- Examine your skin head-to-toe every month
- See your physician every year for a professional skin exam.
If you have an abnormal growth or coloration on your skin, or if a mole becomes an irregular shape or larger than a pencil eraser, check with your doctor – because the earlier skin cancer can be detected, the better off you will be.
Catching skin cancer early makes treatment easier, and this can be done with regular screenings. You should have an initial screening by your doctor, and then you can follow up with 10-minute self-exams once every month.
- Follow these tips as you screen yourself and your children:
- Check your entire body to look for anything new or different.
- Use a body map to record all spots. This will make it easier to notice changes. Download a body map from the Skin Cancer Foundation.
- Use one or two mirrors as needed to see everywhere.
- Don’t forget to check on your scalp and under nails.
- If there is anything that worries you at all, contact your doctor.