May is skin cancer awareness month.  Is it ironic I started composing this post while I was laying out? Probably, but I hopped on the one-piece swimsuit bandwagon this year and had to smooth out some old tan lines before I hit the lake this summer.  Before you call me a hypocrite, let me defend myself and inform you that I made sure to throw on some SPF 30 sunscreen before I grabbed my book and beach towel.

The fact of the matter is this: no matter how dangerous the sun has proven to be, with all of the graduation parties, boat days on Clinton lake, and all of the other summer activities, it’s unavoidable.  And with sun exposure comes the risk of skin cancer.  Did you know that in the last thirty years, more people have had skin cancer than all other cancers combined?  I didn’t either.  A quick google search of “skin cancer” will yield pages and pages of pictures, prevention methods, cancer treatment centers, and more.  Enough negativity to make me never want to google it again.  While I’m typically an “ignorance is bliss” type of girl, I think being in the know on this subject is crucial.  The Cancer Treatment Centers of America and Skin Cancer Foundation websites have proved to be a one stop shop for the basics, so let’s take a look.

 

What is skin cancer?

Skin cancer is any type of cancer that begins in the cells of the skin, typically forming in the epidermis.  There are a couple different types to keep an eye out for.

 

What do I look for?

I had no idea I was supposed to be keeping an eye out for the warning signs of skin cancer until I was talking with our nurse, Melody, about two weeks ago.  Apparently once a month you need to perform a self-examination from head to toe, noting any new growths or moles or any existing ones that begin to grow or change.  The earlier you can catch skin cancer, the better.  So much better, in fact, that doctors have developed two specific strategies for early recognition of melanoma (the deadliest form of skin cancer), the ABCDE strategy and the Ugly Duckling concept.  Both of these methods will give you some detailed insight into examination and what to look for.

 

What if I find something?

Call your dermatologist and set up an appointment!  They’ll know what to do from that point.  Even though we have a medical director we are not qualified to tell you if something is or isn’t skin cancer and we can not treat it.  If you’re like me and have never been to a derm, we have a few that we refer to.

 

Who is at risk?

Literally everyone.  Like I mentioned earlier, since the late ‘70’s more people have ended up with skin cancer than any. other. cancer. combined.  And if you have tanned indoors before the age of 35, *slowly raises hand* then the risk of melanoma goes up by a staggering 75%.  Oh, and fun fact…. An estimated 90% of skin aging is caused by the sun.  

 

The good news is….

Despite the intimidating statistics you can be proactive!  According to the Skin Cancer Foundation’s Prevention Handbookthe regular use of just SPF 15 or higher can reduce the risk of melanoma by 50%!  It’s hard to stay out of the sun all summer, but be smart.  Cover up with a hat or light clothing, and when you can’t do that load up on sunscreen.  Better safe than sorry!