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Take steps to prevent skin cancer this summer

Dr. Susan Rudolph, Dermatologist at Allina Health-New Ulm

As summer approaches and you start to head outdoors more frequently, now is a good time to talk about the dangers of the sun and how to protect yourself against skin cancer.

Skin cancer

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the U.S. and in the world. In fact, 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70. Unprotected UV exposure is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer as about 90% of skin cancers are due to UV radiation from the sun.

The three most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma.

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type and may present as a pink bump, a red scaly spot, or a sore that does not heal. Fortunately, this type of skin cancer rarely spreads to other parts of the body, but it can grow larger and deeper into the skin over time making it more difficult to treat.

Squamous cell carcinoma is the 2nd most common type of skin cancer. It also can present as a red scaly patch or bump that does not go away. It can metastasize or spread if left untreated.

Melanoma is a deadly form of skin cancer but can be cured if caught early. About 20-30% of cases start in an existing mole and 70-80% appear as a new mole.

Risk factors

The following may increase your risk for developing skin cancer:

Tanning bed use

Tanning beds can emit UV radiation 10-15 times higher than the sun

Indoor tanning (even one time) raises the risk of all kinds of skin cancer, including melanoma. Using a tanning bed before age 35 increases your risk of melanoma by 75%.

Sunburns

Five or more sunburns more than doubles your risk of developing melanoma

Sun exposure

Damage from sun exposure (UV radiation) is cumulative and increases your skin cancer risk over time. While your body can repair some of the DNA damage in skin cells, it can’t repair all of it. The unrepaired damage builds up over time and triggers mutations that cause skin cells to multiply rapidly. That can lead to malignant tumors.

Genetics/family history

Having fair skin increases your risk of skin cancer although even darker skin types can develop skin cancer

Having a family history of melanoma may increase your risk of melanoma

History of abnormal moles

Having a history of “atypical” or “dysplastic” moles is a risk factor for developing melanoma.

Immunosuppression

For example, if you have had an organ transplant or have received chemotherapy or other medications that suppress your immune system

Early detection

Skin cancers are often able to be cured when detected and treated early, however many skin cancers go unnoticed until it’s too late. Early detection of skin cancer is important to minimize the extent of treatment with the highest chance of a cure. Therefore, it is important to perform regular self-skin exams once a month when you are in the shower.

Look for the ABCDEs of melanoma or any new or unusual spots

A is for Asymmetry:

One half of the spot is unlike the other half.

B is for Border:

The spot has an irregular, scalloped, or poorly defined border.

C is for Color:

The spot has varying colors from one area to the next, such as shades of tan, brown or black, or areas of white, red, or blue.

D is for Diameter:

While melanomas are usually greater than 6 millimeters, or about the size of a pencil eraser, when diagnosed, they can be smaller.

E is for Evolving:

The spot looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape, or color

Prevention

• Apply sunscreen

• SPF 30 or higher

• Make sure it says “broad spectrum” on the label meaning that it provides both UVB and UVA protection

• Remember to reapply often, at least every 2 hours or more often if you are sweating or swimming

• Wear sun-protective clothing such as a wide-brim hat to protect your ears and neck and sunglasses with UV protection to protect your eyes. Wear clothing that has an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) of 30 or higher, especially if you do not like to apply sunscreen.

Shade

• Hang out in the shade, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM, the peak hours of sun intensity. However realize that even in the shade, some UV rays can still reach your skin so it’s still important to wear sunscreen.

• Avoid tanning beds

• There is no such thing as a safe tan. A tan is evidence of DNA damage to your skin.

• Do not use prior to vacation!

• There’s a reason it’s illegal for minors to tan now in MN!

• Each time you tan, the damage accumulates, creating more genetic mutations which could lead to skin cancer.

If you have a history of extensive sun exposure, family history of melanoma, have a suppressed immune system or see something new, changing, or different on your skin, get checked by a board-certified dermatologist right away.

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