5 Things You Need to Know About Skin Cancer Prevention

By Ernst Lamothe Jr.

Marc Brown, dermatologist at UR Medicine in Rochester.
Marc Brown, dermatologist at UR Medicine in Rochester.

Simply put, skin cancer or melanoma is one of the deadliest of skin cancers. In 2019, it is estimated that there will be 96,480 new cases of melanoma in the United States and 7,230 deaths from the disease, according to the Melanoma Foundation. In the U.S., melanoma continues to be the fifth most common cancer in men of all age groups.

Rates of diagnosis for the disease have increased dramatically over the past three decades, outpacing almost all other cancers. Today, it is one of the most common cancers found among young adults in the United States.

Ultraviolet rays are an invisible kind of radiation that comes from the sun, tanning beds and sunlamps. UV rays can penetrate and change skin cells.

“Sun protection is important because it decreases the chances of having cancer and helps with the overall quality of your skin,” said Marc Brown, dermatologist at UR Medicine in Rochester. “People want their skin to be healthy but extensive sun damage can extensively cause issues that can’t always be reversed.”

1. Use sunscreen

Use broad spectrum sunscreen protection every time you go outside. For the best protection, apply sunscreen generously 30 minutes before going outdoors. Reapplication of sunscreen is just as important as putting it on in the first place, so re-apply the same amount every two hours. The term “water resistant” means that the sun protection factor (SPF) is maintained for up to 40 minutes while swimming or sweating. Very water resistant means the SPF is maintained for 80 minutes.

“I have some patients that talk to me about how they were very careful not to use too much sunscreen and they didn’t even go through an entire bottle during the summer,” said Brown. “I tell people use sunscreen liberally. There is no reason to save it.”

2. Be careful when you are outside

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says rays from the sun can reach you on cloudy and hazy days, as well as bright and sunny days. UV rays also reflect off of surfaces like water, cement, sand and snow. UV rays are strongest and most harmful during midday. Experts say stay out of the sun when it is strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

“I like to be outdoors playing tennis, biking and hiking but I make sure that I am not outside during peak times,” said Brown. “You should revolve your activities around times when the sun is not as intense.”

When possible, long-sleeved shirts and long pants and skirts can provide protection from UV rays. Clothes made from tightly woven fabric offer the best protection. A wet T-shirt offers much less UV protection than a dry one, and darker colors may offer more protection than lighter colors.

3. Avoid tanning booths

Because tanning beds have been around for so long, many people believe using them to get a tan is a safer than exposure to sunlight. That is not true. Tanning beds radiate UVA rays, which penetrate the skin more deeply and damage collagen, the basic building block of our skin and elastin that helps us look younger, according to the Cleveland Clinic. There are studies that say you risk of skin cancer can go up 15% for every four tanning bed visits.

“If it was up to me I would want every tanning booth to be closed,” said Brown. “About 30 to 40 years ago, tanning booths began and the claim was that it was safe to darken your skin but that claim is simply wrong. A suntan is evidence of damaged skin. There are some people who tan three to four days a week and that is damaging their skin long term.”

4. Avoid smoking

Smoking rates in the U.S. have declined in recent decades. However, about 15.5% of the population — or about 37.8 million adults — still smoke cigarettes, according to the latest numbers from Centers for Disease Control. And with the popularity of e-cigarettes, which are battery-operated devices that people use to inhale an aerosol that typically contains nicotine, the issue is not going away.

“Smoking has a direct connection to aging skin. I tell people if they want better skin one of the first things they can do is quit smoking,” said Brown.

5. Talk with a dermatologist

A change in your skin is the most common sign of skin cancer. This could be a new growth, a sore that doesn’t heal, or a change in a mole. Melanoma lesions are often darkly pigmented and could have some uneven borders. They can be one-fourth inch in diameter.

“We can do so much if it is detected early. If you see a change in any of your moles in asymmetry, color, diameter or the evolution of the look you should have it checked,” said Brown.

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