May is National Skin Cancer Awareness Month – and summer is quickly approaching. While this is a time of year when many Californians look ahead to lazy summer days at the beach or pool, it is essential to remember to protect yourself. Skin cancers are rapidly on the rise, and an estimated 1 in 5 Americans can expect to be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime. In the past three decades, more people have had skin cancer than all other cancers combined and the incidence of skin cancers jumped 77 percent between 1992 and 2006 alone. According to Tim Turnham, executive director of the Melanoma Research Foundation, every hour, someone dies from melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.
The good news is that – with proper sun protection and routine self-examinations – the risk of skin cancers can be reduced.
Most importantly, your whole family needs to adopt healthy sun habits and use them consistently. Wear a “Broad Spectrum” waterproof sunscreen with an SPF of 30 every day, even when it is cloudy. Reapply sunscreen frequently, and don’t miss places like your ears, lips, feet and top of your head.
Seek out shade between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun’s rays are strongest. Wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses with 100 percent UV protection, and lightweight, loose-fitting clothing like long-sleeved shirts and pants to protect large areas of skin.
Skin cancer, when caught early, is highly treatable. Exciting new technologies exist that can treat cancers, often with minimal pain or scarring and without surgery. That’s why self-examinations are important.
Get in the habit of checking your skin regularly. Learn the pattern of your moles and freckles so you can identify changes. Look for new growths, spots or bumps that do not heal. Ask a friend or spouse to check the spots you can’t see, like the top of your head or your back.
When examining your skin, remember the ABCDs of Moles.
A – Is the mole Asymmetrical (oddly shaped)?
B – Does it have an irregular or vaguely defined Border?
C – Is the mole uneven in Color?
D – Look at its Diameter. Is it growing in size or larger than a pencil eraser?
If you find any changing moles, growths, spots or bumps that fit these criteria, see your doctor without delay. You should also see a physician annually for a professional skin exam. With vigilance about proper sun protection and self-exams, you can still enjoy the sunshine while reducing your risk of skin cancer.