Skin Cancer Prevention
Skin cancer is caused by the abnormal growth of skin cells; it most often develops on skin that has been exposed to the sun. Most types of skin cancer, such as malignant melanoma, can be prevented by avoiding exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV) and by detecting the early signs of skin cancer. However, even areas of the skin that are not normally exposed to sunlight may develop cancer, making other preventative measures and early detection critical to skin cancer prevention.
Skin Cancer Prevention: Avoiding Sun Exposure
Avoiding sun exposure in order to prevent skin cancer does not mean you have to stay indoors or put an end to outdoor activity. There are, however, some safety precautions that individuals can take in order to minimize the risk of developing skin cancers.
While it may be true that visible sunburns and suntans increase the risk of skin cancer, exposure to sun rays over a long period of time may also cause the development of skin cancer. Nonetheless, it is important to avoid tanning beds or tanning agents, which emit UVA radiation that can produce precancerous lesions on the skin.
Consider the following tips that are advised for the prevention of skin cancer:
- Avoid the sun at its peak: The sun’s rays are at their strongest between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. This makes exposure to UV radiation more dangerous during this time, which is true for both cloudy days as well as during the winter months
- Sunscreen: It is recommended that sunscreen be worn regularly all year round. However, sunscreen alone cannot protect the skin from harmful radiation such as the type of UV rays that can cause melanoma. Sunscreen offers its best protection against skin cancer when applied to the skin 20-30 minutes prior to sun exposure, and then reapplied every two hours afterward. A minimum sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 should also be used, and reapplication of sunscreen after swimming or exercising is necessary.
- Clothing: Wearing clothes that can protect your skin from UV rays is also an important preventative measure of skin cancer. Photoprotective clothing can be recommended by a dermatologist, but some easy clothing decisions can be made that offer a valuable solution. Choosing darker clothes in stiff fabrics that cover the arms and legs, a broad-rimmed sun hat instead of a baseball cap, and wearing sunglasses that offer both UVA as well as UVB protection can increase prevention of skin cancer
Some common prescription as well as over-the-counter medications can make the skin more sensitive to sunlight. These include the following:
- types of cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes medication
- birth control pills
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories including ibuprofen in the form of Advil and Motrin
- acne medication such as Accutane (isotretinoin)
If you have been taking any medication, it is important to talk to your doctor or pharmacist about the potential side effects associated with the drug. Taking extra precautions while taking these medications can help reduce the risk of skin cancer.
Early Detection of Skin Cancer
It is recommended that individuals over the age of forty receive a complete skin cancer examination every year by a doctor. This is also the case for individuals who are at high risk of developing skin cancer.
It is important to perform self-examinations at home to detect the signs of skin cancer. Make sure to assess all areas of the body including the underside of arms and hands, the backs of legs, the soles of the feet, in between toes, the scalp, face, ears, neck, and major areas such as the chest and back. Use a mirror to help you examine areas that are difficult to see.
Report any changes to skin growths including new as well as existing moles, freckles, bumps, and birthmarks. Look for skin cancer symptoms such as asymmetrical shapes, irregular borders, changes in color, and growth sizes that are larger than ¼ of an inch in diameter.
It is import to consult a doctor if any of these skin cancer warning signs are detected, since early diagnosis can be critical to skin cancer survival.