Preventing skin cancer starts with sunscreen no matter the time of year, Westminster dermatologist says

When it comes to preventing skin cancer, sunscreen is the No. 1 line of defense.

Dermatologist physician assistant Brenda Schneider, of Westminster Dermatology, recommends wearing sunscreen all year long, in any type of weather.


“I actually encourage everyone, regardless of skin color or age to wear a facial lotion with sunscreen every day of the year and then if they’re out and about, make sure they’re covering the rest of their skin that’s exposed with SPF 30 or higher," Schneider said.

There are two types of ultraviolet rays that affect the skin — UVA and UVB, the latter of which is stronger in the summer and causes sunburn, though UVA rays are out year-round, according to Schneider.


“Basically, as long as you can see sunlight then you’re getting UVA exposure,” Schneider said.

UVA absorbs more deeply into the skin and is a “high risk factor” for skin cancer and aging, according to Schneider.

She’s been in her position 21 years, and much of her job is looking for signs of skin cancer — the most common kind of cancer, Schneider said.

About 9,500 people in the United States are diagnosed with skin cancer daily, Schneider said, citing the American Academy of Dermatology website. It is estimated that more than 192,000 cases of melanoma are diagnosed in the U.S. in one year, Schneider said. There are expected to be 7,230 deaths attributed to melanoma in the U.S. in 2019, she said.

Melanoma is one of the three most common types of skin cancer and the most life-threatening, according to Schneider. If it is caught early it can usually be cured, she said. The much more common, and less serious types, are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, Schneider said.

A person between the ages of 20 and 40 should get their skin checked every three years, then yearly after age 40, according to Schneider. If someone has a family history of skin cancer, moles, fair skin, eyes, and hair, then Schneider may encourage them to be checked more frequently, she said.

There will be free skin cancer screenings at the Carroll Hospital Tevis Center for Wellness Nov. 8 from 9 a.m. to noon and Schneider will be there, she said. Patients need to schedule an appointment ahead of time by calling 410-871-7000.

Depending on the person, a screening may take about 10 minutes, according to Schneider. Typically, she asks a patient to undress and lie on a table, then she examines their skin head to toe, front and back.

In her experience, Schneider said she has seen many farmers and construction workers in Carroll County with signs of skin cancer, attributed to the hours they spend outside and without sun protection.

Skin cancer has become more prevalent over the years, but Schneider says its being caught earlier, which is the best chance for treatment.

In general, she doesn’t feel one age group is more uneducated about prevention than another, but the lack of education runs the gamut.

“I would say there’s a lot of knowledge lacking,” Schneider said. “A lot of people feel like if they’re in the shade then they’re protecting themselves, and that is not true. Of course, you’re getting less direct sunlight but you’re still getting about 80% of the ultraviolet rays in the shade, not to mention reflected sunlight and sunlight coming in from the side of whatever you’re shading yourself with," and that includes clouds.


She recommends people apply sunscreen 20 minutes before sun exposure to allow it absorb into the skin, but sunscreens with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide usually have a more immediate effect, according to Schneider.

Knowing the signs of skin cancer are also vital, Schneider said.

“The classic skin cancers either start as a sort of like a red scab or pimple looking sore that won’t heal, might bleed easily. And then of course melanoma starts often as something that looks like a mole, so it might be brown or black, usually more irregular, and anything that’s changing,” Schneider said.

About half the time, melanoma occurs in an existing mole. The rest of the time it occurs in what looks like normal skin, according to Schneider. She wants people to realize “anyone can get skin cancer,” and there are steps an individual can take to prevent or mitigate its effects.

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