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4 Simple Steps to Preventing Skin Cancer

Interview by Dolores Radding

Over the past 50 years, Jocelyn Thein, MD, says Americans have become much more educated about the harmful effects of the sun and how to protect themselves from skin cancer, but she says the country still has a long way to go. For example, according to the Centers for Disease Control only about one-third of Americans regularly use sunscreen.  Dr. Thein is a dermatologist at the Kaiser Permanente medical centers in both Union City and South San Francisco, and she’s the featured guest of the free Health Talks Online webinar “Look Good, Protect Your Skin,” scheduled for Monday, May 6 at 12:30 p.m.

How common is skin cancer in the United States?

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States; one in five Americans will have skin cancer in their lifetime. Basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers are the most common types of skin cancer among people of all ages, and they are highly curable. However, melanoma, (https://healthy.kaiserpermanente.org/health/care/!ut/p/c4/FYtLDsIwDETP0gNURlA-YscZIlTCBhnXIlEdO4JA1duTaN5i9DQDd6hR_MUXlmiKAjfwZFpYyzkwSgk9K60klnmKCGM7iBEKg2ftv58m5uwY3xTAJxZUS9hsWXMdzc_WwxIn8GHZbg774QiO9XF1kFM67SrDpev-b7UVig!!/) the most serious form of skin cancer, is the most common form of cancer among 20- to 30-year-olds.

Caucasian men have the highest rate of incidence and death from skin cancer in the United States. People with light-colored skin and eyes are at greatest risk, but people of all skin tones can get skin cancer. The best way to prevent skin cancer is to protect yourself from the sun and its harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.

What are the four simple steps to protecting your skin from the sun?

First, avoid being in the sun during peak hours; that’s 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Seek out shade, instead. Everyone should use sunblock with an SPF of 30 or higher with both UVA and UVB protection. Wear light-weight clothing to protect exposed skin, a hat with a wide brim to protect your face, head, neck, and ears, and sunglasses to protect your eyes. Stay away from tanning beds; go with a spray tan instead if a little color is a must.

Tell us about Melanoma Monday?         

Melanoma Monday is the first Monday in May; this year it’s the same day as our upcoming Health Talks webinar, May 6. It’s a day to educate the public about melanoma, which is the most serious form of skin cancer. The National Cancer Institute estimates that more than 9,000 people in the United States will die from melanomas of the skin this year.

The first sign of melanoma is often a change in an existing mole or a new mole. You can remember what changes to look for by thinking of “ABCDE.”

A is for asymmetry: The shape of one half of the mole doesn’t match the other half. B is for border: Melanomas can have jagged, irregular borders. C is for color: Look for different colors within the same mole, or a mole that is darker than the rest of your moles. D is for diameter: A mole that is larger than a pencil eraser head.  E is for evolving: The mole has changed over the past few weeks or months.

If you have a suspicious mole, have your primary care provider take a look, and he or she can refer you to a dermatologist if necessary. When it comes to skin cancer, we’d rather err on the side of caution.

What else should our readers know about sun protection?

I tell my patients to wear sun protection year-round; no matter what the weather is. UV rays from the sun can damage your skin on cloudy, foggy, and hazy days as well as sunny ones. Also, most people don’t put on enough sunblock. The average person in a bathing suit should use 1 ounce, or about a palm-full of sunblock, for each application. If you’re in the sun, you should apply sunblock 30 minutes before going out, reapply every 2 hours, and after you swim.

Most people know that sunburn is a sign of skin damage, but they may not know that a suntan is also a sign of damage. People who get tans or burns over the years will show signs of aging more quickly, and their risk of skin cancer will be higher than if they had protected themselves from the sun. Sun exposure is like smoking; you don’t usually see the health effects until years later, so it can be hard for people to make the connection.

Register for Dr. Thein’s upcoming free Health Talks Online.

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