It’s no secret that when a celebrity comes forward about fighting a disease or illness, people take note. By publicly sharing his battle with skin cancer and urging people to take precautions against it, Hugh Jackman (known to fans as Wolverine) has brought skin cancer into the spotlight once again.
“We can’t avoid the sun – we can’t live underground,” says Philip Lobo, M.D., radiation oncologist at NCH, “however, we can limit our exposure and take the right precautions to protect ourselves against skin cancer.”
According to Dr. Lobo, there is an undeniable link between sun exposure and an increased risk of skin cancer. In fact, the areas of the body at greatest risk for developing skin cancer are those with frequent exposure to the sun, such as the face, neck, ears, scalp, and arms.
While statistics show that the number of skin cancer cases in the United States is steadily increasing, taking some basic precautions can dramatically cut the risks of developing skin cancer. Dr. Lobo suggests taking these steps to protect yourself:
- Add a physical barrier between you and the sun, such as a hat or parasol, and always wear sunglasses. Avoid direct exposure to the sun when it is at its strongest.
- Save your skin, not the sunscreen. Apply it early, often and liberally. If you’re in areas of higher elevation, be doubly generous. And always reapply sunscreen after getting wet.
- If you smoke, stop. Studies show a relationship between smoking and certain types of skin cancer.
- Bypass the tanning bed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other organizations cannot be clearer in their message – indoor tanning is not safe.
“The risks associated with skin cancer accumulate over time – they don’t happen overnight,” Dr. Lobo says. “That’s part of the problem. If you put your hand in a fire, you get burned and it hurts – so people don’t do it. There’s an immediate cause and effect. With skin cancer, those risks gradually add up,” he says.
Here are some general risk factors (in addition to frequent sun exposure):
- Age – the longer you live, the more exposure to the sun
- Fair skin, freckles, light eyes – the less skin pigmentation, the greater the risk
- History of sunburns – especially early in life
- Weakened immune system
- Large number of moles (certain types)
“When it comes to skin cancer – control what you can control,” Dr. Lobo says. “Limit your exposure to the sun. Visit a dermatologist for a baseline exam. Do your own monthly skin exam to see if any of your moles have changed. If you live with someone, have them check your back for the moles you can’t see.”
And last, but not least, never leave home without your sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat.
Looking for a dermatologist? Visit NCH’s online physician directory.