Jane Ambro, cancer prevention specialist at Indiana University Health West Hospital, offers tips for skin cancer prevention and early detection.
“Most skin cancers are caused by too much exposure to ultraviolet rays,” Ambro says. “We often think about skin cancer during the summertime, when the days are longer, the sun is brighter and we’re spending more time outdoors. However, overexposure to the sun can occur any time of the year. Damaging rays can penetrate through clouds and can reflect off of pavement, sand, water and snow.”
We all know that sunscreen is important, but Ambro says the kind of sunscreen matters. It’s important to read the label closely.
“Choose a sunscreen with broad-spectrum protection, which protects against both UVA and UVB rays,” she advises. Ambro also encourages choosing a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher and choosing one that is water resistant.
When buying sunscreen, remember that “water resistant” doesn’t mean “waterproof.” Sunscreen is not completely waterproof or sweat-proof. That’s why it’s important to reapply every two hours, or more if swimming or sweating. Remember to apply the sunscreen before going outside so it absorbs into the skin.
“For children or for those with sensitive skin, look for gentler sunscreens that include ingredients such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide,” Ambro explains. “Babies younger than six months of age should avoid using sunscreen if possible.”
Although too much exposure to the sun is damaging, that does not mean you need to avoid summer beach plans. Just implement everyday protection from the sun into your everyday routine.
“When outdoors, protect your skin by covering up,” Ambro says. “Stay in the shade, wear wide-brimmed hats and limit your time in the midday sun. Sunscreen should be worn daily, and can even be found in daily skincare products like lotion and makeup. Don’t spend time in a tanning bed, and discourage your family and friends from doing so.”
Skin cancer can affect people of all ages and skin types. Risk typically increases with age, and it’s important to talk with your doctor about your family history of skin cancer, personal history of sun exposure and if you notice any changes in your skin.
“Awareness is key to skin cancer prevention,” says Ambro. “Look for changes in size, shape or color of a blemish, appearance of a new growth on the skin or a sore that doesn’t heal. If you notice any spots that are different than others, or if you notice spots that are changing, itching or bleeding, make an appointment with a dermatologist.”
Know Your Body
Check yourself regularly for any new or suspicious spots. Examine both your front and back in front of a mirror. Bend your elbows and look carefully at your forearms and the back of your upper arms and palms. Also, don’t forget to look at your feet, including the spaces between your toes, the back of your neck and scalp and even your back and bottom (using a hand mirror can help).
For self-examinations, remember and watch for the ABCDEs:
• A: Asymmetry (one half of the mole doesn’t match the other)
• B: Border irregularity
• C: Color that’s not uniform
• D: Diameter of greater than 6 mm (about the size of a pencil eraser)
• E: Evolving size, shape or color
The skin is the body’s largest organ, and it serves as an outer covering protecting against heat, light, injury and infection. Check your body monthly from head to toe for anything new or uncommon, and report any condition that lasts longer than two weeks to your doctor. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, but it’s often treatable when detected early.