HFYH: How to Prevent and Detect Skin Cancer
Sunshine and Melanoma
In South Florida, work and play outdoors occurs every day. Sunny weather and mild temperatures year-round make it attractive to enjoy extensive time in the sun. Spending too much time outdoors, though, without the protection of sunscreen or clothing to cover your skin, can lead to sunburns and the potential of developing skin cancer. This includes the most serious skin cancer, melanoma.
Melanoma develops in the cells known as melanocytes. These are the cells that produce melanin, the pigment that gives your skin color. These cells also can be found in your eyes and other places in your body. While the exact cause of melanoma skin cancer isn’t clear, exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight or tanning beds can increase your chances of developing melanoma.
Recently, the risk of melanoma has been increasing in people under 40, especially women. Knowing the warning signs of melanoma are important to help detect and treat the skin cancer before it spreads. If detected and treated early, melanoma treatment can be successful. Melanoma can develop anywhere on your body, including areas that are routinely exposed to the sun like your face, arms and legs as well as areas that don’t received much exposure, like the soles of your feet, palms of your hands and fingernail beds.
The first signs of melanoma are often a change in the appearance of an existing mole or the development of a new unusual-looking growth on your skin. To help you identify characteristics of unusual moles that may indicate melanomas,
use the ABCDE guide to moles:
- A is for asymmetrical shape. Look for moles with irregular shapes. For example, a mole that has two very different-looking halves.
- B is for irregular border. Look for moles with irregular, notched or jagged borders.
- C is for changes in color. Look for moles that have many colors or an uneven distribution of color.
- D is for diameter. Look for new growth in a mole larger than 1/4 inch (about 6 millimeters).
- E is for evolving. Look for changes in moles over time. For example a mole that grows in size or that changes color or shape. Moles may also change and develop new symptoms, such as new itchiness or bleeding.
There are several risk factors that may increase your risk of developing melanoma that range from the type of skin you have to where you live.
- Fair skin. People who have less pigment or melanin in their skin have less protection from damaging UV radiation. Someone with blond or red hair, light-colored eyes, and who sunburns easily, has a higher risk of developing melanoma than someone with a darker complexion. However, melanoma can also develop in people with darker complexions, including Hispanic people and Black people.
- A history of sunburn. Someone who has had one or more severe, blistering sunburns has an increased risk of developing melanoma.
- Excessive ultraviolet (UV) light exposure. Someone who routinely is exposed to UV radiation, which comes from the sun and from tanning lights and beds, has an increased risk of all skin cancers, including melanoma.
- Living closer to the equator or at a higher elevation. Where you live can increase your risk for melanoma. Someone who lives close to the earth's equator, where the sun's rays are more direct, experiences higher amounts of UV radiation than those living farther north or south. Similarly, the elevation where someone lives also can impact exposure to UV radiation. The higher the elevation the greater amount of UV radiation exposure.
- Having many moles. People who have more than 50 ordinary moles on their body correlates to an increased risk of developing melanoma.
- A family history of melanoma. Genetics plays a role in someone’s risk of developing melanoma. If someone has a close family member like a parent or sibling that has had melanoma, then they have a greater chance of developing a melanoma as well.
- Weakened immune system. Your immune system plays an important role as well. Someone who has a weakened immune system has an increased risk of developing melanoma and other skin cancers.
There are many steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing melanoma. The primary step is to avoid the sun in the middle of the day. Even on cloudy days, the UV radiation can still reach you, so avoiding the sun at the times of day when the sun is strongest can help reduce sun exposure.
If you work outdoors during the day or can’t avoid the daytime sun, make sure to wear sunscreen year- round. The type of sunscreen you wear is important as well. Wear broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, even on cloudy days. Even better, wear a sunscreen with an SPF of 75 to 100! When applying sunscreen, do so when your skin is cool and dry, before you go outside into the sun. Apply sunscreen generously, and reapply every two hours. If you are swimming and perspiring, apply sunscreen more often since the sunscreen can come off easily, especially if you dry your face or wipe off perspiration.
Wearing protective clothing is even better than sunscreen. A long-sleeved shirt and long pants provide great protection from UV radiation from the sun. Many companies now offer protective clothing that have built-in sun protection.
Examine your skin regularly, once per month. Become familiar with your skin so that you'll notice any changes that occur. Look for new skin growths or changes in existing moles, freckles, bumps and birthmarks. For those places you can’t see well, use mirrors or ask for someone else to look at those areas, like your neck, ears and scalp. Make sure you check all areas of the skin, even those more sensitive places that never see the sun.
What is the best way to protect yourself and reduce your chance of developing melanoma? Start tonight! Examine your skin and see if there are any unusual moles or areas on your skin. If you see anything that concerns you, schedule an appointment with your doctor. Starting tomorrow, apply sunscreen and wear long-sleeved shirts and hats to help block the sun’s rays and reduce your chance of developing melanoma.
About the Health Care District
The Health Care District of Palm Beach County provides primary medical care, dental services and COVID-19 testing for adults and children at the C. L. Brumback Primary Care Clinics, health coverage programs for eligible uninsured residents, a pharmacy operation, a nationally-recognized Trauma System, registered nurses in nearly 170 public schools, short and long-term skilled nursing at the 5-star rated Edward J. Healey Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Riviera Beach, and acute care at its teaching hospital, Lakeside Medical Center, which is accredited by The Joint Commission and serves the rural Glades’ communities.