Summer is a great time to get outside and socialize and exercise. It’s also the time of year that provides the most exposure to the sun. Although it feels great to bask in the sun’s rays, it can lead to skin damage—and worse—if you’re not prepared.
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that skin cancer continues to be the leading type of cancer in the United States. In 2013, more than 3.5 million people in the United States were diagnosed with a form of skin cancer. One person an hour dies as a result of the disease.
Keep your skin safe
Thomas Bleasdale, M.D., an internal medicine physician with Northwest Community Healthcare Medical Group in Rolling Meadows, shares the following tips to help prevent sunburn and skin cancer:
- Do not burn. Overexposure to the sun is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer.
- Avoid sun tanning and tanning beds.
- Generously apply a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Reapply at least every two hours and after swimming or sweating. (See Consumer Reports’ 2017 list of recommended sunscreen products.)
- Wear protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
- Seek shade between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun's ultraviolet rays are strongest.
“Our three children know that when they are going to be out in the sun for any period of time, a 30 SPF sunscreen is required,” says Dr. Bleasdale. “We also use sunscreen ourselves.”
Know your ABCDEs of skin health
According to WebMD, moles should be examined for irregularities that can indicate melanoma. Physicians use “ABCDE” to describe characteristics of moles that may pose a cancer risk.
- Asymmetry: Atypical moles are more likely to be asymmetrical. This means a line drawn through the middle would not create matching halves.
- Border: While common moles usually have regular, sharp, well-defined borders, the borders of atypical moles tend to be irregular or gradually fade into the surrounding skin.
- Color: Atypical moles have varied, irregular colors.
- Diameter: Atypical moles are generally larger than a quarter-inch, or the size of a pencil eraser, but may be smaller.
- Evolution: Growth or any other noticeable change in a previously stable mole, or the appearance of a new mole after age 40, should be examined by a physician.
“If you notice a skin lesion has changed in size, shape or color, it is very important to make an appointment for a skin exam. You can start with your primary care doctor,” says Dr. Bleasdale. Early detection of skin cancers often lead to better treatment and outcomes.
Although there are no formal screening recommendations, make sure you tell your primary care physician if there is a family history of melanoma in two or more blood relatives, or if you notice atypical moles.