How to minimize your risk of skin cancer

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As the days get longer and the weather warmer that means one thing - more time spent outside in the sun.  Already many of us are venturing outdoors enjoying the warm spring days but there is one thing we must always do before we head outside – put on our sunscreen.  We’ve always known sunscreen use of SPF 30 or higher prevent sunburns but now researchers have proved it can also prevent melanoma, the most common form of cancer in the United States.

A 2016 study from the Ohio University Comprehensive Cancer Center conducted research on special mice having human-like skin.  Several brands of SPF 30 sunscreen with different ingredients were applied to the rodents.  The findings showed all of the sunscreen brands were effective in preventing melanoma in the mice. 

Even though animal studies tend not to produce similar results in humans, the researchers stressed it still proves wearing SPF 30 sunscreen when outdoors can protect against harmful UV rays reducing risk of melanoma by 80 percent.

The results of this study provides valuable clues in future skin cancer preventing agents and development of effective interventions that can boost protection against the most deadly form of skin cancer, malignant melanoma.

May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month

This information is perfect timing for discussing skin cancer as May is designated Skin Cancer Awareness Month.  Each year there are more new cases of skin cancer than the combined incidence of cancers of the breast, lung, and colon with one in five Americans who will develop skin cancer in the course of their lifetime.

The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2017, 87,110 new cases of invasive melanoma will be diagnosed in the United States with an estimated 9,730 people who will die from this disease.   Melanoma accounts for less than one percent of skin cancer cases, but the vast majority of skin cancer deaths.  For the last 30 years, the rate of melanoma has been rising.

If melanoma is detected early, there is a 98 percent estimated 5-year survival rate of those diagnosed with malignant melanoma.  The survival rate falls to 63 percent when the disease reaches the lymph nodes and 17 percent when the disease metastasizes to distant organs.

Our skin is the largest and most exposed organ of the body.  Every day, it is subjected to harmful UV rays, cold and hot temperatures, wind, and pollution.  Therefore, it needs effective means of protecting throughout our lifetime.  The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends the following prevention guidelines:

· Stay in the shade

The worst time to be outdoors is when the sun is the strongest – between 10 am and 4 pm.  Also use the “shadow rule” – when your shadow is shorter than you, the sun’s harmful UV radiation is stronger and when your shadow is longer, UV radiation is less intense.

· Avoid sunburns

If you have had five or more sunburns at any point of your lifetime, your risk for melanoma doubles. 

· Do not use tanningand UV tanning booths

The use of indoor UV tanning beds can increase the likelihood of developing melanoma by 74 percent.  Using a tanning bed will also increase the chance of developing squamous cell carcinoma by 2.5 times and can increase basal cell carcinoma by 1.5 times. 

· Cover up when outdoors

Covering up, including wearing a wide-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses when outdoors, is one of the most effective means of protecting your skin.  The more skin covered the better – wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants as much as possible.

· Wear sunscreen

Choose a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher every day.  Apply 2 tablespoons of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outdoors.  If you are swimming or are sweating excessively, reapply every 2 hours.

· Examine your entire body every month

Look for changes in moles or appearance of new moles.  If they look suspicious, see a dermatologist right away.  Visit www.SkinCancer.org/selfexamination  to learn how to perform self-examination on knowing how to spot skin cancer.