The July sun can be both a blessing and a curse: While the warm rays make playing in the water and enjoying the outdoors more enjoyable, they also can damage your skin and cause irreparable harm. Here are tips from Dr. James Harris, surgical oncologist with Renown Institute for Cancer, about how to protect yourself and your loved ones from skin cancer.
Take one step outside, and you’re well aware of the impact of the sun: The rays are most concentrated during the month of July — not to mention most punishing. And northern Nevada’s higher altitudes make the potential danger to your skin even greater. So we asked James Harris, MD, surgical oncologist with Renown Institute for Cancer, about the best defense against skin cancer.
Many of us know to use sunscreen, but 58 percent of Americans still don’t. So how much sunscreen is enough? And what else can we do for protection?
To guarantee you get the full SPF of your sunscreen, you need to apply about one ounce — about enough to fill a shot glass. This amount should cover the skin that’s normally exposed to the sun — such as your face, front and back of your neck, ears, hands and sometimes arms. Of course, when more skin is exposed in summer months, you’ll want to use more sunscreen to cover your shoulders, legs, feet and chest if needed.
And if you’re getting ready for a day in the sun, make sure to apply your sunscreen at least 30 minutes before you go outside. This allows the sunscreen to sink into the skin and provide more protection.
If you go swimming or just went for a run or walk and sweated a lot, be sure to reapply sunscreen and keep reapplying every two hours, using the same amount every time.
In addition to sunscreen, it’s best to stay in the shade, wear a hat and UV-blocking sunglasses and wear long sleeves and pants if possible.
So when it comes to skin cancer, what should people watch for? What are the signs?
Generally, if you see something you think doesn’t look normal or you’ve noticed a change, call your doctor because it really is better to be safe than sorry.
More specifically when it comes to routine self-exams, you want to look for melanoma spots, which you can look for using your ABCDEs:
- A is for asymmetry: Moles that are not cancerous will usually be symmetrical, which means if you draw a line through the middle of it, the two sides will match. Cancerous moles are normally asymmetrical and the sides won’t match.
- B is for border: A non-cancer mole or spot has smooth, even borders. But melanoma spots have borders that tend to be uneven and can feel bumpy.
- C is for color: Non-cancer spots and moles are usually all one color and often just one solid shade of brown. If you see a mole or spot with more than one shade, then you should call your doctor to get it checked.
- D is for diameter: Non-cancer moles and spots are usually smaller than a pencil eraser while melanoma moles tend to be bigger.
- And lastly, E is for evolving or changing: If you have a mole or spot that has looked the same for years and years, it’s most likely not cancer. Since skin cancer cells multiply fairly quickly, moles and spots that are signs of cancer will usually change in size, shape, color or develop new symptoms like itching, bleeding or crusting. When you see something change, tell your doctor and have it checked out.
How often should we check ourselves for signs of skin cancer?
When it comes to skin cancer, early detection is really important. The earlier you can spot the signs, the better. Try to examine yourself at least once a month, looking at your skin from head to toe.
And regardless if it’s sunny outside or not, it’s important to be vigilant about your skin care all year long. So, make sure you’re checking through the fall and winter and wearing sunscreen no matter the season.
Should you spot anything unusual spots or pigmentation on your skin, contact your primary care doctor. If a malignancy is suspected, the Renown Institute for Cancer offers treatment for skin and other cancers.