Hat and sunscreen on a beach Skin Cancer

by Malcolm Bedell May 15, 2019

5 Tips to Help Protect Against Skin Cancer

With warmer weather right around the corner, it’s more important than ever to get smart about sunshine and take the steps necessary to protect our skin from its potentially damaging rays. Skin cancer is the No. 1 most common type of cancer in the United States; in fact, skin cancer is diagnosed more often in the U.S. than all other cancers combined, and rates are on the rise due to our increased lifespans, exposure to sun and improved detection methods.
Most skin cancers are caused by excess exposure to ultraviolet rays, which may come from the sun or from man-made sources such as indoor tanning beds or sun lamps. The good news is that skin cancer is mostly preventable and can be treated effectively when caught early. In honor of May’s designation as National Skin Cancer and Melanoma Awareness Month, we assembled the following five steps you can take to help protect yourself:
Add sunscreen to your daily routine. In many cases, skin cancer is a matter of simple cause and effect: The more time you spend exposed to ultraviolet rays, the higher your risk for skin cancer, as well as wrinkles, premature aging and even loss of vision. Ultraviolet rays damage the DNA of skin cells, and cancers often form when the DNA that regulates skin cell growth is damaged. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen of at least SPF 30 or higher, whether you’re planning a day at the beach or just an afternoon walk around the neighborhood.
Seek shade and wear protective clothing, particularly during peak sun hours. Remember, the sun is at its strongest (and potentially most damaging) in the middle of the day, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If you have activities scheduled outside during that time of day, seek shade under umbrellas, protective hats, sunglasses and clothing, where appropriate. Remember this basic sun safety rule of thumb: If your shadow is shorter than you are, seek shade.
Don’t forget about sun exposure in the car. According to the National Institutes of Health, about 53% of skin cancers in the United States develop on the left side of the body, or, you guessed it, the side of the body that’s exposed to the sun while driving your car. To help protect the skin from the sun, consider applying a transparent car window film designed to block out all types of UV rays without reducing visibility.
Stay out of the tanning bed. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services makes their position on this one very clear: They’ve classified tanning beds and tanning lights as carcinogens, because they increase the risk of developing melanoma, basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers. If you can’t give up that bronzed skin, consider a sun-free tanning solution, including tanning sprays or lotions.
Perform regular self-exams. Like most types of cancer, detecting skin cancer early is an important part of treating it successfully. Fortunately, you don’t need expensive tests or extensive blood work to detect skin cancer; all you need is a mirror.
Because different types of skin cancer can present differently, it’s important to check your skin regularly for any potential changes. The American Cancer Society recommends following the “ABCDE” method for evaluating suspicious moles, bumps or spots:
  • A is for Asymmetry: One half of a mole or birthmark does not match the other.
  • B is for Border: The edges are irregular, ragged, notched or blurred.
  • C is for Color: The color is not the same all over and may include shades of brown or black, or sometimes with patches of pink, red, white or blue.
  • D is for Diameter: The spot is larger than 1/4 inch across (about the size of a pencil eraser), although melanomas can sometimes be smaller than this.
  • E is for Evolving: The mole is changing in size, shape or color.
Remember, not all cancers follow the rules, so be sure to tell your doctor about any changes, new spots on the skin or growths that look different from the rest of your moles.

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