Skin Cancer and Sun Safety

Did you know that skin cancer currently is the most common type of cancer? Fortunately, it is easy to detect early, and all types of skin cancer may be cured if caught soon enough. Too much exposure to harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun causes most cases of skin cancer. People who sunburn easily or have light skin have a higher risk, but everyone is at risk for skin cancer — people of all skin colors and races.

Serious sunburns, especially during childhood, have been linked to increased cancer risk. Sunburn is completely preventable — just be sure to wear sunscreen and don’t stay out in the sun too long. And remember, in addition to causing cancer, UV rays damage your skin by taking away its softness and causing wrinkles and blotchy skin.

Learn the Basic Types of Skin Cancer

The most common types of skin cancer are basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma, which usually appear as a small bumpy growth or as a red, crusty or scaly patch. Malignant melanoma is the most deadly type, but is less common and can be cured if caught early. If not diagnosed and removed right away, melanoma can spread rapidly to other parts of the body. Melanoma usually appears as brown or black spots that often begin in or near a mole.

Moles are evenly-colored spots of brown or black. They can be flat or bumpy, round or oval. Most people have moles, and most moles are harmless. So how do you know when a mole might actually be melanoma? Here are the “ABCD” warning signs of melanoma:

  • Asymmetrical shape: the shape of one half doesn’t match the other half.
  • Border irregularity: the edges are irregular, ragged or blurred.
  • Color variation: there is more than one shade of color.
  • Diameter: larger than 6 millimeters (the size of a pencil eraser).

A Self-Exam Might Save Your Life

Remember the ABCD’s and try to look over your skin from top to bottom every month. Skin cancer can pop up anywhere — even below your finger or toenails. See your doctor if you have an unusual skin growth, a sore that won’t heal, or a mole or wart that changes size, shape or color. Skin that is itchy, tender or painful can also be a warning sign.

Top 10 Sun Safety Tips

  • Stay out of the sun as much as possible, especially between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
  • You can get sunburned on cloudy days, under water, or through your car window.
  • If you go out in the sun, wear sunscreen (see sunscreen guide).
  • Don’t forget to use protective lip balm.
  • Use UV-blocking sunglasses to protect your eyes.
  • Wear light-colored clothes that cover your arms, legs, and neck.
  • Put on a wide-brimmed hat to shade your face.
  • Drink lots of water.
  • Avoid the sun completely when your local news says the UV index level is high.
  • Never use tanning salons; they use the same UV radiation that causes skin cancer.

Handy Sunscreen Guide

Sunscreens work by absorbing UV rays before they can harm you, and sunblocks work by reflecting UV rays away from you. Whatever product you use, always choose one with SPF 15 or more. That means it’s possible to stay out in the sun 15 times longer than without protection. Here are some quick sunscreen use tips:

  • Apply generously and rub in 15-30 minutes before going out.
  • Get your kids into the habit of using sunscreen now.
  • Use one product with a high SPF (15 at least); putting on low SPF products in combination or in several layers doesn’t work.
  • Put on more sunscreen after sweating or swimming, even if it says “water-proof”.

We Want to Help You Stay Healthy

If you want to work toward a healthier lifestyle, you don’t have to do it alone. Simi Valley Hospital can help. Please call our us at (805) 955-6890 to find out about our free and low-cost health classes. We can also help you find a physician; just call Referral Services at (805) 955-6900.

Note: This is for information purposes only and not intended for use in place of the advice of a physician.

SOURCES: American Cancer Society; US News & World Report, 6-24-96