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Have fun in the sun, but watch out for skin cancer

Summertime is here, and people everywhere are thinking of fun in the sun, especially after being cooped up with the need for social distancing during the pandemic. But with all that sun comes a dangerous risk – skin cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, around 5.4 million basal and squamous cell skin cancers are diagnosed in the U.S. every year.

Basal and squamous cell skin cancers are the most common and easily treated when caught early. They are rarely fatal. However, the most dangerous type of skin cancer, melanoma, is expected to reach almost 100,000 diagnoses this year and about 7,650 people are expected to die from the disease.

“Melanoma is the most aggressive form of skin cancer,” says Diego Cabrera, M.D., oncologist with Med Center Health Hematology & Oncology. “Patients with a higher risk of developing melanoma should undergo a clinical skin exam by a trained provider at least once a year.”

While many cancers are declining in number, skin cancer cases are growing. Why? Experts believe it’s a combination of better detection, people living longer, and increased ultraviolet (UV) light exposure.

Risk factors for skin cancer

By far, the greatest risk for skin cancer is exposure to rays from UV light. While UV rays come mostly from sunlight, they can also be found in tanning beds and sun lamps. They are the reason people get sunburns and tans – both are damage to the skin caused by UV light and increase the risk of skin cancer. Other risk factors include:

  • Light-colored skin, blue or green eyes, and blond or red hair. While people of color are at risk for skin cancer, it is found most commonly in whites who freckle or burn easily.
  • Age. Damage from UV rays builds up over time, so most skin cancers are found in people over the age of 65. However, the numbers are rising among younger people who are spending more time in the sun and tanning beds.
  • Male. Men are believed to generally get more exposure to the sun than women, which increases their risk.
  • Previous skin cancer.
  • Smoking. The use of tobacco has been linked to squamous cell skin cancer, especially on the lips.

Keep yourself safe!

Fortunately, reducing your risk of skin cancer is fairly easy to do. An everyday habit of sun protection can help you avoid skin cancer while still enjoying the outdoors.

  • Stay in the shade, especially during the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. when the sun is brightest.
  • Wear a hat with a brim wide enough to shade your face, head and neck and clothing that covers arms and legs.
  • Wear wraparound sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays.
  • Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher.

In addition to protecting yourself while outside, avoid indoor tanning. Many people believe getting a base tan before summer activities will somehow protect their skin – but the opposite is actually true. Tanning is a sign of damage to the skin and does not offer any protection at all. In addition to that, around 3,000 people every year end up in the emergency room from indoor tanning accidents and burns.

What to do if you think you have skin cancer

If you’ve noticed a mole that is changing shape, color or size, or any changes in your skin such as a sore that won’t heal, talk to your primary care provider as soon as possible. They may refer you to a dermatologist for a biopsy. Some cases may require treatment by a cancer specialist, such as a medical oncologist or surgical oncologist. If you do have skin cancer, don’t panic. Most skin cancers are successfully treated and are not life-threatening.

For more information, visit MedCenterHealth.org/cancer.