Now that the month of May is here, many people spend more time outdoors in the sun. May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month. Do you know these basic facts about skin cancer, screening, and sun safety?
Skin cancer is a disease in which cancer cells form in the tissue of the skin. Our skin is very important. It helps control body temperature, protects against injury, and stores water and vitamin D, among other things. Skin cancer begins in the top or outer layer of the skin.
There are different types of skin cancer. Nonmelanoma skin cancer is the most common type, but it is also the form of skin cancer that is most likely to be cured. Melanoma, another type of skin cancer, is less common but harder to cure. Melanoma is more likely to spread to other parts of the body.
Screening refers to tests that are done to see if a person has cancer, before they have any symptoms. During a skin cancer screening, a health care professional checks pigmented (darker) areas of the skin such as moles, birthmarks, etc. They are looking for areas that are abnormal in size, texture or color, or have an irregular shape.
The doctor may want to take a biopsy of an abnormal area on the skin. A biopsy involves removing the suspicious skin tissue so it can be studied under a microscope to look for cancer cells. Skin cancer that is found at an early stage can often be treated.
Sun exposure is the biggest risk for skin cancer.
Here are some tips to help you protect your skin from the sun:
• Use sunscreen. A sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher is recommended. Apply sunscreen generously. Reapply every two hours, after swimming or sweating, and after toweling off. Even waterproof sunscreen needs to be reapplied.
• Wear protective covering. Clothing that is specifically designed to provide SPF protection is a good choice. Wear a wide-brimmed hat.
• Choose sunglasses that block 100% of UV rays. Wrap-around sunglasses offer the most protection.
• Use sunscreen and protective clothing even on cloudy days. The sun’s UV rays can still damage your skin.
• Stay in the shade as much as possible, especially from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. when the sun’s rays are most intense.
• Protect children’s skin with sunscreen, long sleeves, and hats. Protect their eyes with sunglasses.
Have a safe and fun-filled summer!
Submitted by Anne Grauel, M.P.H., community health educator, Cigarette Restitution Fund Programs, Carroll County Health Department.