Burn after reading? Not this time
Summer is in full swing and plenty of people are spending all their time in the sun, but are you protecting yourself from those rays?
Melanoma accounts for about one percent of all skin cancers in the U.S., but causes most of the skin cancer deaths.
Jerry Brewer, a dermatologist with Mayo Clinic, shared tips for detecting — and hopefully avoiding — the dangerous cancer.
About 1 in 43 people in the U.S. will get melanoma, Brewer said. It’s a stat that’s nearly doubled in the past 15 years.
"It’s estimated that there will be about 178,000 cases of it in 2018," Brewer said. "9,000 people die every year."
What makes skin cancer so dangerous? Well, it’s tricky to see, for one thing.
"You’d think that your skin is easily accessible and it would be easy to detect," Brewer said. "But it’s a tricky tumor."
Often, skin cancer looks like a normal mole or a mild discoloration, like a series of pink spots.
Melanoma and other skin cancers spread easily. After breaking through the basal (top) layer of the skin, the cancer roots, then dives deeper into the skin. From there, it can travel into the lymphatic channels and move almost anywhere in the body.
"It’s important to live … life to the fullest, but do it safely," Brewer said. "Do skin checks, and see a dermatologist if anything changes after age 30 or so."
Ultimately, Brewer said, it’s important to keep track of any changes in your skin’s appearance. If you know what your skin looks like, then see new moles or dark spots pop up — or an existing spot changes — it’s time to see a dermatologist.
The number-one way to prevent melanoma? Avoiding UV radiation, an established carcinogen. That means wearing protective clothing, seeking out shade, and wearing sunscreen. "Even an SPF of only 15 helps, if you do it regularly," Brewer said.
Little doses of sun protection add up, he said — even using a dab of sun lotion on the nose, ears and cheeks in the morning can reduce the odds of getting skin cancer by 50 percent.
"It’s kind of like putting money in the bank. … The compounding effect will accrue over time," he said.
C3: Ways to detect, prevent skin cancer
Strike a pose. The main way to detect cancer is to be "in tune with your body," Brewer said. Ideally, that means doing a check once a month for any changes in your skin’s appearance.
"Get comfortable with looking at yourself in your birthday suit," he said. "Get a mirror. Taking a look at your skin is one of the best things you can do to avoid dying from melanoma."
Look for the ABCDs of melanoma. When you’re checking your moles, pay attention to Asymmetry, Border, Color, and Diameter. Check for moles with irregular borgers or jagged edges, white or blueish coloring (or two different colors), and extremely large size. Melanoma can be in any size mole, but if one is bigger than a pencil eraser, that’s a reason for concern. Keep an eye on it. About 70 percent of moles are from brand-new dark spots as well, Brewer said.
Check all over — skin cancer can lurk anywhere. In the age of tanning beds, there aren’t any particular areas that are more prone to skin cancer than others. "It used to be that the back of men was the most common spot, and it used to be that women’s legs were the most common spots for melanoma." Brewer said. "But now it can be anywhere you can imagine." (By the way: getting in a tanning bed even once ups your odds of getting skin cancer at some point in your life to one in four. "Tanning beds are are high-powered ultraviolet exposure for your skin," Brewer said.) So also check places without much sun exposure, like the bottoms of feet and under clothing.
Know the risks. Eighty-six percent of melanomas are attributable to UV exposure, Brewer said. But if you have red or blonde hair, your odds of getting skin cancer are two to three times higher. The more moles you have, the higher your odds as well. More than 50? Your chances just went up three times. More than 100? Your odds of developing skin cancer are 7.7 times higher than average. Skin cancer is multi-factorial, and no one factor is guaranteed to lead to melanoma — or protect against it.