The sun’s rays often drive people outside to enjoy a beautiful day. However, while you are staying active and enjoying the sunshine, remember to take the time to protect yourself and your children from over exposure to the sun. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States—melanoma being a very serious form of skin cancer. The good news is you can take simple steps to lower your risk of getting skin cancer.
Be aware of your melanoma risk
“Everyone is at some risk for developing melanoma because this skin cancer does not discriminate by race, gender or age,” Fade Mahmoud, MD, said. Dr. Mahmoud is a hematology oncologist who specializes in melanoma and sarcoma at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Melanoma risk factors include:
- History of frequent or intense sun exposure, particularly blistering sun burns in early childhood
- History of tanning bed use
- Having 50 or more moles
- Having fair skin, light or red hair, freckles and blue or light-colored eyes
- A personal or family history of melanoma or skin cancer
Steps to reduce your risk
According to Dr. Mahmoud, it only takes one blistering sunburn—especially at a young age—to double your risk of developing melanoma later in life.
“Experiencing five or more blistering sunburns between ages 15-20 increases your melanoma risk by 80% and non-melanoma skin cancer risk by 68%,” Dr. Mahmoud said.
Here are some simple steps you can take to decrease your skin cancer risk:
- Avoid being in the sun during the peak hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. when its rays are the strongest.
- Apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 to exposed areas of the skin and reapply every two hours – even on cloudy days.
- Wear protective clothing, a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
- Never use tanning beds, which produces UV radiation the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies as carcinogenic to humans, in the same category as asbestos, tobacco, and plutonium.
Is melanoma treatable?
If your melanoma hasn’t spread, a surgical procedure can be done to remove the problematic tissue. Depending on the depth of the melanoma and whether the melanoma is associated with ulceration, your physician may recommend sentinel lymph node biopsy. If the biopsy shows the melanoma is in the lymph node, your doctor would then recommend additional treatment to decrease the risk of melanoma recurrence.
If your melanoma has spread, or metastasized, to other organs you have two treatment options:
- Immunotherapy with “immune check point inhibitors” such as pembrolizumab, nivolumab or ipilimumab.
- Targeted therapy, if you have the BRAF mutation (approximately 50% of melanomas harbor the BRAF mutation).
The ABCs of skin cancer detection
Do you know about the ABCs of moles? Prevention is the most important step, says Dr. Mahmoud, and if you spot a new pigmented lesion, see your doctor right away. Dr. Mahmoud recommends you examine your skin head-to-toe every month. Here’s what to look for:
- A: Asymmetry – the two sides of the mole look different from each other
- B: Border – the border is crooked, jagged or irregular
- C: Color – the mole is multi-colored
- D: Diameter – the width is more than 6 millimeters (the size of a pencil eraser)
- E: Evolution – the mole has changed in shape, size or feeling
If you have concerns about your moles, it’s important to be checked by a physician.