May is National Skin Cancer Awareness Month and with summer quickly approaching we look forward to longer days and more time outside. The sun provides us with beneficial, vitamin D, however, it also exposes us to harmful ultraviolet radiation. The two types of radiation from the sun are A (UVA) and B (UVB). Exposure can cause sunburn, photoaging, and skin cancer.
The skin is your largest organ. How can you protect it?
- The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends avoiding the sun during peak hours (10:00 am and 2:00 pm), wearing sun-protective clothes (lightweight long sleeve shirts, broad-brimmed hats, sunglasses) and applying sunscreen.
- AAD also recommends following these guidelines year-round and being especially careful when around water, snow, or sand as they reflect the sun’s rays and increase your risk for sunburns.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends avoiding sunscreen in children younger than 6 months of age.
- When picking out a sunscreen look for broad-spectrum coverage that is water-resistant.
- Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before exposure and apply liberally and often. A rule of thumb is to apply one teaspoon to the face and neck, two teaspoons to front and back of your trunk, one teaspoon to each upper extremity, and two teaspoons to each lower extremity. Reapply every 2 hours or after swimming or sweating.
It’s equally as important to check your skin once a month for changes in moles and see a healthcare provider at least once a year for a comprehensive skin evaluation. When evaluating your own skin follow the ABCDE of mole evaluation.
A-asymmetry. Divide the area in half, one half is unlike the other
B-border. Irregular, scalloped or poorly defined borders
C-color. A mole that has different colors or shades within it
D-diameter. Melanoma is usually larger than 6 mm
E-evolving. Changes in size, shape, color or character
Risk factors for skin cancer include:
- Fair skin
- A history of sunburns
- Excessive sun exposure
- Increased number of moles
- Family history
- Exposure to radiation
- A weakened immune system
There are several types of skin cancer. Basal cell carcinoma (BCC), the most common type of skin cancer looks like flesh-colored, pearl-like, or pink patch or bump on the skin. Often found on the head, neck, and arms but can be anywhere on the body. Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) the second most common type of skin cancer often appears on the ears, face, neck, arms, chest, and back. It is usually a red firm bump, scaly patch or sore that doesn’t heal. Melanoma develops in a mole or appears as a new dark area on the skin and tends to be more aggressive. Actinic Keratosis (AK) is a dry scaly patch that is precancerous and can progress to SCC if left untreated.
If on your own assessment you find an area on your skin that meets the criteria for the ABCDE of mole description make an appointment ASAP with your provider at Northern Virginia Family Practice.
Sunlight has been shown to improve our mood and boost our vitamin D to help our bones and immune system but on National Skin Cancer Awareness Month remember the potentially harmful effects of the sun and the importance of being proactive.
By Jessica Ware, PA-C, concierge family medicine PA for 18 years focusing on high quality personalized preventive care.