Summertime is the biggest time of risk??
For most people, summertime is spent outside in the backyard, at the beach, grilling or at the playground with the kids. While most people enjoy spending their summer days relaxing outside and soaking up the sun, those outdoor activities could come at a price. Increased time in the sun means increased possibility of skin cancer. The good news is that you can enjoy the sun if you use precaution and take steps to lower your risks.
How are you supposed to protect yourself? What are you supposed to look for?
The first step is to be aware of the condition of your skin. If you have a mole that doesn’t look right, see your primary care doctor or dermatologist. Conduct self-exams in the mirror, looking for any moles that are inflamed or change in size, shape or color.
It is also important to be sun smart and understand the dangers of tanning. There is not a safe way to tan. Exposure to ultraviolet rays either from the sun or tanning beds are known risk factors for developing melanoma in your lifetime. Blistering sunburns, especially in childhood, also increases the risk.
While you can’t eliminate all sun exposure, the best way to minimize the damage from the rays is generous use of sunscreens, protecting the skin from sun by wearing loosefitting clothing which covers the skin and wearing wide-brimmed hats. Even on overcast days one can be exposed to a tremendous amount of harmful sunlight.
It is best to stay out of the sun during peak exposure times, which are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. If it’s possible, plan your family’s outdoor activities for early morning or late afternoon, when the exposure is less intense.
Another way to be proactive against sun damage and skin cancer is to get an annual skin screening. This is when a physician looks for cancer before a person has any symptoms and can help find cancer at an early stage. When abnormal tissue or cancer is found early, it may be easier to treat. By the time symptoms appear, cancer may have begun to spread.
Although melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer, there are other types people should be aware of.
Three common types include squamous cell carcinoma, melanoma and basal cell carcinoma. These cancers differ in their pathology (the way the cells look under the microscope) and in their behavior.
While those with lighter skin are more likely to develop melanoma, darkskinned individuals can also develop melanoma, especially if there is a family history. If you have been previously diagnosed with skin cancer, you are at increased risk of developing another skin cancer and should have a physician perform a skin exam regularly.
So, while you are out and about this summer, don’t forget these tips and take a proactive role in decreasing your chances for skin cancer.
Dr. Nadia Gomes is a family medicine physician at CHRISTUS Primary Care Associates and is enthusiastic about preventative health and caring for the entire family.